Google Seeking To Keep Depth Of Gmail Scanning Confidential

google-legal-lawGoogle is currently fighting a federal consolidated class action lawsuit over Gmail scanning and data-mining. A main legal theory in the case argues Google’s activity constitutes illegal “wiretapping.”

Google is reportedly trying to keep confidential many of the details of its internal processes and has asked US District Judge Lucy H. Koh ”to redact ‘confidential’ information from the [public court] transcript,” according to Bloomberg. The report adds, “The main revelation at the Feb. 27 hearing was the existence of ‘Content Onebox,’ used by Google to intercept e-mails for targeted advertising and to build user profiles.”

Google takes the position that its Gmail scanning is entirely legal in part because Gmail users consent to their emails being examined by machine for several purposes including spam fighting, virus protection and advertising. Plaintiffs argue instead that Gmail users don’t and can’t consent “because Google’s agreements are silent on the [Gmail data-mining] processes.”

Plaintiffs (in their consolidated complaint) assert:

  • Google “reads” every Gmail from every user and . . .
  • Collects metadata from those emails and builds “user models” or “profiles” for advertising purposes
  • Uses “the collected content and metadata in combination with other data (such as web search history) to ―know where you are…know where you’ve been…[and] know what you’re thinking about.”

The “Content Onebox” mentioned above appears to be related to this notion of a consolidated view or user profile. Here’s more from the complaint:

  • Google’s collection of information from email messages to build User Models is secret, and Google does not disclose its secret user profiling to anyone.
  • Google never informs anyone that Google uses information contained within incoming email messages to Gmail users to build secret user models . . .
  • Google’s application of a user’s collected web (search) history with a user’s collected email message content and derivative data is secret, and Google does not disclose its secret user profiling to anyone.

Among other damages and claims for relief, plaintiffs seek full disclosure of the extent of Google’s Gmail data-mining, “profiling” and related practices.

Google is also currently being investigated for privacy related violations in several countries Europe. Most recently, the company was fined by French privacy regulators and ordered to post a statement on its French homepage that its privacy policy did not comply with French law.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google | Google: Critics | Google: Gmail | Google: Legal | Legal: Privacy | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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