We finally got an answer, maybe not the answer we were looking for – and especially not hoping for. But Google have us an answer. When we wrote about Gmail and Google’s spam advertising earlier in the week, many passed it over as ‘ohh, don’t worry Google will change now’. But the doesn’t look likely, not now, not any time soon.
Google has admitted in a court filing that users should hold no “reasonable expectation” that their Gmail communications are confidential. Arguing against the plaintiffs, who Google are saying are trying to criminalise basic industry practice, Google admitted that Gmail wasn’t confidential.
The Consumer watchdog who broke the news has said that the statement is a “stunning admission” of Google’s lack of respect for privacy.
“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.” said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog
Google set its case out last month in attempts to wager the class lawsuit action taken against them. The firm has been accused of abusing their position and tapping into users emails to deliver spam, right into the inbox. The case against Google defines that Google: “unlawfully opens up, reads, and acquires the content of people’s private email messages”. But with more evidence stacked against them, those at Google would do well to keep quiet. The case also includes a quote from Google Executive chairman, Eric Schmidt:
“Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”
Those taking action against Google claim: “Unbeknown to millions of people, on a daily basis and for years, Google has systematically and intentionally crossed the ‘creepy line’ to read private email messages containing information you don’t want anyone to know, and to acquire, collect, or mine valuable information from that mail.”
But don’t worry, although those Google lovers out there, Google has for your back covered. They a likened their actions to a simple phrase: “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 communications service] provider in the course of delivery.”
Google argued that the claims against them were untrue and false, in a statement they said: “We take our users’ privacy and security very seriously; recent reports claiming otherwise are simply untrue.”
Google critics have always foreseen this event and have now taken the opportunity to push the knife in further in some cases. Google isn’t right to do what they’ve done, but it isn’t new.
Simpson, a Google critic dismissed the firms analogy and called for Google to change:
“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?”
Whatever Google has done or is doing isn’t new. Google is an Internet Goliath and the income it relies on is solely from advertising. Google needs these to survive and hence that’s why we see them everywhere. It isn’t as bad as you think. Google offers a free service with Gmail and therefore we can expect spam. But what isn’t acceptable is the blatant ‘scanning’ of emails for spam purposes. As a user who isn’t particularly concerned about my privacy, after all posting to YouTube isn’t too private, I have no issue with security agencies looking at metadata and other information to safe guard lives. However Google is not doing this. They are targeting those for advertising and is as simply related to as your post man opening your mail.
Google will have an ongoing battle with privacy campaigners as they move to launch Google Glass, but their biggest battle will be the long term balance between their advertising income and how they treat privacy. Because it is a very “creepy” line that Google has almost crossed and they didn’t really need to.