Google to Users: We Won’t Do Evil … But Don’t Expect Privacy

by Adam Benjamin | August 14, 2013 2:15 pm

A lot of people have spoken out against Google (GOOG[1]) for its aggressive dismissal of user privacy, but when you look at the details of its latest supposed breach, the reaction is overblown.

According to CNET[2], the statement was filed in June as part of a motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit. Google is citing a 1979 Supreme Court decision regarding the collection of electronic communications to support its motion.

Plaintiffs in the case are alleging that Gmail’s automated scanning features are a violation of users’ privacy because they examine the contents of private communications. But Google argues that the features in question are ordinary and disclosed part of the services, which are also employed by competing services like Yahoo and Hotmail.

In Google’s filing, it states that the plaintiffs “go to great lengths to portray Google in a sinister light.” The plaintiffs’ apparent implication being that Google is acting contrary to its “Don’t Be Evil” mandate. And while the impulse here might be to pile on Google, the company actually has a valid point.

Essentially: If you don’t want Google scanning your emails, you can say goodbye to spam filters and email search capabilities.

But the complaint isn’t about spam filters; it’s about Google scanning emails to serve up targeted ads.

Google was quick to stress that the scanning is automated, meaning “not seen by human eyes.” And the company rightly points out that Yahoo (YHOO[3]), AOL (AOL[4]) and Hotmail (now Microsoft [MSN[5]] Outlook) all have similar business models that scan emails to target ads. In a footnote in the filing, Google states that a “nearly identical” lawsuit was brought against Yahoo and subsequently dismissed.

So, yes, it’s jarring to read statements about users having “no legitimate expectation of privacy” — especially from a company that’s marketing cameras you can wear on your face.

But at least in this case, that just seems to be the cost of convenience.

Adam Benjamin is an Assistant Editor of InvestorPlace. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

  1. GOOG:
  2. According to CNET:
  3. YHOO:
  4. AOL:
  5. MSN:

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