In response to a July 2013 class action complaint against Google, the company referenced a case from 1979 which found that there is “no legitimate expectation of privacy in information in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.”
That reference was taken out of context by Consumer Watchdog, who then proceeded to slam Google.
Quoting (their own) John M. Simpson, CW’s “Privacy Project Director”, they boldly state:
“Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy.”
But is that what Google said?
Here is a portion of Google’s 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 communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS [electronic communication service] provider in the course of delivery. Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.’ Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 743-44 (1979). 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. For example, the Court explained that in using the telephone, a person “voluntarily convey[s] numerical information to the telephone company and ‘expose[s]’ that information to its equipment in the ordinary course of business.”
It goes on to say:
“The same is true of email sent through an ECS provider. As numerous courts have held,
the automated processing of email is so widely understood and accepted that the act of sending an
email constitutes implied consent to automated processing as a matter of law.”
So is Google suggesting that it’s OK for their employees to rifle through a user’s email? That they can even make parts of a user’s emails public?
They are talking about automated processing here. Same thing that happens with any email service, especially web-mail based systems.
Does Google automatically filter through emails looking for keywords to target for advertising?
Is that right or wrong? That’s a fair debate. This hype over a reference taken out of context, isn’t.
Are Gmail users getting freaked out over the debate?
In a word: “No”.
I interviewed several Internet users about this, here are their responses:
– A PhD in her mid 50’s agreed with Google’s comparison to a business setting and stated that she would not be changing her habits. “At work, everything I am emailed is monitored. [Because of that] I don’t send out personal stuff over my email. ”
– An Internet user since the early 1990s, stated, “I have never assumed privacy.” When asked if Google’s statements would change his habits, he replied: “I haven’t closed my account yet.”
– A new user to Gmail said: “I use Gmail for family, but for friends I use social networking and texting.”
– A teen user explained her views of email privacy: “I don’t send private emails and I don’t have too. We have other ways to communicate. I can call or text.”
– The least concerned user I spoke to was a 70-something connected only through his Smartphone. When asked his thoughts, he replied with genuine confusion: “So what’s new? Do you get any additional privacy from Yahoo?”
So where do you stand on this?
Let us know in the comments section below – and be sure to Like, Tweet, G+ and Pin this page to pass it on to your friends and followers!