Google reflected in eye

Google has told users of its email service  that they should not expect privacy. In response to a lawsuit which accused the tech giant of breaking US wiretapping laws, it said that users should have no “legitimate expectation” that their emails will remain private.

Its submission stated: “Just as a sender of a letter to a 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 communications service] provider in the course of delivery. ”

The statement also said: “Indeed a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information they voluntarily hand over to third parties.”

The document was lodged by Google in a California court in response to a lawsuit that accused the web giant of scanning emails in order to target adverts to users.

Its statement has prompted fury from privacy campaigners.

Consumer Watchdog (CW), a US pressure group, described Google’s statement as a “stunning admission” of the extent to which internet users’ privacy is compromised.

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch also criticised the corporation. “It’s like arguing the Post Office should routinely open people’s letters when all the information they need to deliver it is on the outside,” he said: “Perhaps if Google is so confident consumers don’t mind about this intrusion, they should be putting a clear health warning on the front page that Gmail users can see. The question is if regulators will step in.”

But despite the concerns of privacy campaigners, Google remained unrepentant and said in its submission: “All users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing. If plaintiffs used Yahoo mail, they would have known that automated scanning of emails to deliver advertising is a common industry practice not limited to Gmail.”

The company’s attorneys also suggested that the public is savvy enough to know how their emails are handled, and that the information in them may be read by third parties.

Although many were aware of the spying nature of the NSA and various other global conglomerates, the suggestion that the content of private emails should and will be routinely read by advertisers and other third parties will no doubt raise a few eyebrows.

Ironically, a spokesperson for Google  hastened to add that they take all of their user’s privacy concerns very seriously.

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