Pa. woman sues Google over Gmail privacy, claims violation of wiretap laws
PHILADELPHIA — A Pennsylvania woman has accused Google of illegal wiretapping for “intercepting” emails she sent to Gmail accounts and publishing content-related ads.
Her lawsuit echoes others filed across the country by class-action lawyers who say the practice violates wiretap laws in some states. They represent email users who do not have Gmail accounts and have therefore not signed the company's acceptance terms.
“The terms are that Google can intercept your emails and use them for direct marketing purposes,” said lawyer Richard M. Golomb, who has sued Google in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida. “They are also intercepting emails of the non-Gmail account holder, in violation of wiretap laws in some states.”
In court filings in the Maryland case, Google acknowledged that it routinely scans emails for spam and computer viruses, but said that's permitted under similar federal wiretap laws.
Google argued that selling advertising based on the content of a received email is a routine business practice permitted under an exception written into the wiretap law. Google notes Yahoo and other email providers sell ads through similar methods.
“There can be little doubt that selling advertising in order to provide a free service to consumers is a ‘legitimate business goal,'” Google lawyer Michael G. Rhodes and others wrote in a Nov. 9 motion to dismiss the Maryland case. “If it were not, then the entire model by which content is provided on the Internet would be illegitimate, as would the business model by which television programming has been provided for free for the last half century.”
Courts reviewing email wiretap cases have repeatedly held that “parties expect and impliedly consent to having their communications intercepted and recorded whenever they use email,” the Google lawyers wrote.
Rhodes did not immediately return a call for comment on Monday.
At least one electronic privacy expert called it “a bit of a stretch” for Google to compare a search for advertising leads with rooting out spyware.
“People think when you send a message, communications companies can filter out spam and malware, and that's correct. But filtering out spam and malware is not the same as looking at the content of the email to (find) keywords for advertising purposes,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The Philadelphia plaintiff, Kristen Brinkman, does not have a Gmail account and never signed the company's acceptance policy, according to her Nov. 30 lawsuit.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Conneaut Lake Park to take case to court for tax-exempt status
- Ohio woman shot to death nearly 3 days before police find body in Neshannock home
- Geologist: Site of idyllic 1833 painting of Lancaster found
- Pennsylvania legislative leader Costa blasts suggestion of session before Wolf sworn in as governor
- Kane’s office backtracks on prosecution in email scandal
- Attorney General Kane expected to appear before state grand jury
- ‘Consolidation’ might be the word for some shale companies
- Erie ties record low but avoids heavy snowfall
- Newsmaker: Jacqueline Coplen
- Pennsylvania graduates’ loan debt remains near top