Google is suddenly being hammered in the media in this week because of language contained in a 39-page motion filed in June
, resulting in at least one privacy group throwing a hissy fit. The filing is part of a case in which Google is trying to have a class-action data-mining lawsuit dismissed. In it, Google cites a 1979 Supreme Court decision, insisting Gmail users, and specifically people e-mailing Gmail users, really should have no expectation of privacy.
"Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient's assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS provider in the course of delivery," notes Google in the filing.
The company cites said 1979 decision in upholding that opinion, which says that "a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties." "In particular, the Court noted that persons communicating through a service provided by an intermediary (in the Smith case, a telephone call routed through a telephone company) must necessarily expect that the communication will be subject to the intermediary’s systems," insists Google's lawyers.
Technically Google is right in that users should realize that an e-mail sent through a companies service is going to "touch" their systems and thereby isn't truly private (Google's justifying their use of e-mail content to generate behavioral ads). There's also the fact that e-mail by its very nature isn't really private, and these days that includes the services that claim to be particularly so
. Most of our readers know by now that there almost always is no such thing as privacy on the modern Internet, even for those who go above and beyond in trying to remain anonymous
Still, a group calling itself Consumer Watchdog is outraged, claiming the language (which has been taken somewhat out of context) means Google has no serious interest in privacy.
"Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy," said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director in a statement
. "People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy don’t use Gmail."