Google under fire after claims that Gmail users ‘cannot expect privacy’


Google has come under fire for comments made in a recent UK privacy case, claiming that users of its Gmail service users should not expect privacy when they send messages to a Gmail account.

The comments were revealed in legal documents filed by the company in response to a claim by three people backed by a campaign group, called 'Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking'.

The filings show that Google will contest the right of Safari users in the UK to bring a case in the country they live in and where they use Google’s service.

In their brief, Google reported:

“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.”

(Motion to dismiss, Page 19)

Following the news, John M. Simpson - Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director - commented: “Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy. People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy don’t use Gmail.”

Simpson also added that the brief by Google makes use of analogy that is not correct.

“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?”

Google refused to accept service of the lawsuit in the UK, instead forcing the victims to serve on the company in California.

Their claim is based on Google’s admission that tracking cookies were installed on the computers and mobile devices of people using Apple’s Safari internet browser even when they had expressly chosen to block them.

These cookies allowed Google to secretly track the browsing activities of millions of Safari users, without their knowledge, and to collate and use that data.

The practice was only stopped when a law student and security researcher noticed Google’s activity and published an exposé in the United States. Google paid a record $22.5million settlement to the US Federal Trade Commission to settle charges.

Read Google’s motion to dismiss here

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