Google: Gmail Users Have No Reason To Expect Privacy

Google: Gmail Users Have No Reason to Expect Privacy

Here's some more bad news to add to the pile of concern over email vulnerability, a brief filed by Google's attorneys has just surfaced and revealed that Gmail users should have "no legitimate expectation of privacy" -- ever.

The brief, unearthed by Consumer Watchdog, was filed on July 13, 2013 in response to a class action complaint against the company to the United States District Court for Northern District of California in the hopes that the court would dismiss the case. According to the document, users should assume that any electronic corresponded that finds its way to Google's servers can and may be full accessed and used for a whole slew of purposes, including selling ads.

According to the motion:

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 emails are processed by the recipient's [email provider] in the course of delivery. Indeed, 'a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.

Of course, Google emphasises the more practical purposes of the questionable privacy policy; every time you type in keyword or run a search filter, in order to pilfer through your messages, Google has to scan the actual email. They go on to claim that a ruling against this method would hinder and "criminalise" their basic business practices, stating:

In practice, plaintiffs' theory would prevent ECS providers from providing a host of normal services that Congress could not possibly have intended to criminalise as an illegal interception. For example, an ECS provider could not allow users to sort their emails using automated filters because any such system would require scanning the contents of the emails being delivered to the user, thus running afoul of plaintiffs' theory. Nor could an ECS provider provide even basic features like allowing users to search their own emails for particular key terms because doing so would, again, involve the scanning of email content.

Still, Google's explicit belief that its users lack an inherent right to privacy is more than a little disconcerting in light of how this might translate to compliance with NSA requests. And this has Consumer Watchdog more than a little upset. In a statement to RT, Privacy Project director John M. Simpson says:

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?

And with all this coming out just days after the news of two secure, subscription email services shutting down after alluding to vague "outside pressures", the matter of a user's right to privacy is becoming at the same time all the more important and increasingly hazy. You can read the the brief in full below. [RT]

Google Motion 061313

Picture: Shutterstock/Sven Hoppe



    Have google officially changed their slogan from Do No Evil to just Do Evil yet?

    Google, you're not the customer, you're the product.

      Wow, welcome to the internet. You think it's any different with Facebook or any other "for free" product out there?

    I would like a bit more information on what is actually happening.

    As I understand it, there is no one at google who is "reading" your emails. It's an automated search that looks for keywords so they can give you targeted advertising. This is no huge secret, and it should surprise no one. It's common knowledge. They provide a service to you, and advertising is how you pay for it. No human has read your email, and your privacy has not been breached.

    However, if they are handing over those emails to agencies like the NSA without a court issued warrent, that is something else entirely. I do expect that any email I send will only be opened and read by the person I sent it too. And unless the Government has a legitimate reason to need access to it, in which case they should get a court issued warrant, they need to stay the hell out of my inbox.

      I think that was/is one of the issues, the fact that NSA and like did not need a court issued warrant to sift through private data. The collection of data was allowed under new legislation in the name of "national security" or in the "National interest". So this type of system just makes it extremely easy to hand over everything. To be honest, I would never have expected my gmail emails to be private, lets be honest its Google. Unless I am paying for privacy (i.e. a encrypted secure email service) I assume its public.

    I would argue that no person using any online service has an expectation of privacy. That said if someone at Google wants to look at my boring emails they can go for it, obviously like the above comment said, it's just an automated search for keywords.. whoop whoop.

    This all came out when Google Drive was launched. They explicitly state in the license agreement that any data stored can be used by Google as they see fit.

    Eyes open, people.

    So what's the difference between Google and the others..? Also, is there even a decent and private service out there..?

      MSFT does not read your emails for any keywords apparently. They are providing just a email service and Skydrive service, from what I've seen and read.

      AFAIK MS makes (most of) its money selling software and solutions (and Skype minutes), not ads. They do some targetted ads (e.g. through Bing) but the unobtrusive ads to the right of my inbox are all for Surface - an MS product that, if they read my e-mail like Google does, they would know I already own!

      iCloud Mail is private, but lacks most of the features a Gmail user would be used to.

    The distinction I would like to see drawn is that I would initiate a search of my email for filtering purposes. I do not initiate a search of my email for advertising keywords - Google and their associated agencies do that on their own.

    Well people..

    If you have something which you must email and don't want anyone to view it, make it a non-executable file, encrypt it, even convert it into a viewable image file (but then the police may think you are distributing nasty stuff), and send it as an attachment...

    This is all very easy, you may even encrypt the email message and paste the encrypted text into the email just for fun....

    BUT, still don't have any expectation that the email may not pose a challenge to the code breakers in the NSA, who scan gmail... Just for fun you can write your own random encryption algorithms, and not be a slave to the industrial complex. (hint; don't email the key to the other end, use some offline method to keep it secure.)

    BUT, if the email is totally and randomly encrypted (double or triple) there sill be NO metadata for the service provider to extract, and that may raise some hackles in the NSA, FBI, MI6, ASIS etc.

    Just for laughs, at the people expressing shock and awe.

    i specifically committed to gmail on the EXPLICIT publicly avowed policy of "do no evil". pretending that some legalese subverts this contract is wrong

    How is this news ?
    When Gmail launched, they explicitly said that emails would be scanned, so they could serve up ads relevant to your interests. There was article after article in the tech blogs, detailing the pro/cons of having your email scanned, but in the end, everyone calmed down and got back to running articles on the latest monitor, etc.
    If you use a desktop antivirus, that scans your email, then your email is actually scanned on their servers first, and then popped into your email client.
    Oh noes !

    Storm + teacup, nothing more.

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