Google has been caught up in a legal battle that claims the Internet giant uses Gmail as a "secret data mining machine," something it is fighting against. In a legal briefing the company filed, it contends something that has caused users and others to get a bit riled: that individuals who send emails to a Gmail address have no expectation of privacy because it was "voluntarily [turned] over to third parties."
In the case against Google, it is stated that messages sent to Gmail accounts undergo more than the typical processing for viruses, spam, and other similar actions, instead being diverted to "separate devices" for the purpose of capturing "the authors' actual thoughts ("thought data") for Google's secret use." That so-called thought data is then used "for commercial gain," according to the plaintiffs.
Google has contended that those who send emails to Gmail don't have an expectation of privacy, using the analogy of a letter sent to a business in which the recipient's assistant might open the letter. It then goes on to cite a ruling made in 1979 that says those who turn over information to a third party have no expectation of privacy. The information comes from Consumer Watchdog, which has made available the (redacted) briefing and Google's motion to dismiss the case.
The case will be heard by the honorable Judge Lucy H. Koh in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, California on September 5. In the meantime, the claims by Google have some up in arms, in particular the Consumer Watchdog, which has the legal documents available by hitting up the link below. Said the group's Privacy Project director John M. Simpson:
"Google's brief uses a wrong-headed analogy; sending an email is like giving a letter to the Post Office. I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on the envelope. I don’t expect the mail carrier to open my letter and read it. Similarly when I send an email, I expect it to be delivered to the intended recipient with a Gmail account based on the email address; why would I expect its content will be intercepted by Google and read?"