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Do Gmail Users Have a 'Reasonable Expectation' of Privacy?


"Google has finally admitted they don't respect privacy."

Google said in a court briefing users should have no "reasonable expectation" their emails are confidential. (Getty Images)

Many have jumped on a court briefing, obtained by a watchdog group earlier this week, that shows Google saying individuals using Gmail have no "reasonable expectation" that their messages are confidential. But is that the whole story?

"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," Google stated in the court briefing obtained by Consumer Watchdog.

"Indeed, 'a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns to third parties,'" Google added.

Google Google said in a court briefing users should have no "reasonable expectation" their emails are confidential. (Getty Images)

In a news release, Consumer Watchdog called the revelations a "stunning admission" that Google does not respect a user's right to privacy on the Internet.

"Google has finally admitted they don't respect privacy," said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director. "People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents' privacy don't use Gmail."

The Verge though believes "outrage junkies" have made something out of nothing with this brief:

First of all, Google's argument isn't even about Gmail users, who are covered by Google's unified privacy policy. Google's argument is about non-Gmail users who haven't signed Google's terms of serviceIt's right there in black and white — the heading for the section literally starts with the words "The Non-Gmail Plaintiffs."

The Verge then goes on to pull out Google's exact phrase in the document that discusses this point in the context of privacy for non-Gmail users:

Non-Gmail users who send emails to Gmail recipients must expect that their emails will be subjected to Google's normal processes as the [email] provider for their intended recipients.

"Non-Gmail users. These words appear roughly 300 words after the Smith v. Maryland quote that's causing all the fuss, but it appears no one read that far," The Verge states.

The claims were made as Google fights a class action lawsuit accusing them of breaking the law when it scans emails to better target Internet ads to Gmail users.

The lawsuit alleges Google has "systematically and intentionally crossed the 'creepy line' to read private email messages" in an effort to "know and profit what 'you're thinking about.'"

In 2012, Google touted that Gmail has over 425 million users.

TheBlaze's Liz Klimas contributed to this report.

(H/T: SF Gate)

Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter



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