Google updates TOS to disclose email scanning

After a class-action data-mining lawsuit was brought against Google last year, the company has updated its terms of service to clarify its automated email scanning.

After a class-action data-mining lawsuit was brought against Google last year, the company has updated its terms of service to clarify its automated email scanning.

(Credit: Google)

In news that will surprise very few people, Google has clarified in its terms of service that it does, in fact, scan users' Gmail accounts. The move comes as the web giant is in litigation with a number of complainants who averred that, in scanning their emails, Google had violated their privacy without their consent.

Google, which uses automated keyword scanning to filter spam, deliver advertising and optimise search results, claimed that its users consented to scanning when they signed up for Gmail and agreed to the terms and conditions, moving to dismiss the lawsuit — however, Judge Lucy Koh refused to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that it was impossible to "conclude that any party — Gmail users or non-Gmail users — has consented to Google's reading of e-mail".

The new paragraph in the Gmail Terms of Service is designed, it would seem, to eliminate all future doubt. It reads:

Our automated systems analyse your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customised search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.

The lawsuit against Google is ongoing; however, in March, Judge Koh denied the lawsuit class action status, meaning the nine plaintiffs will need to continue the lawsuit individually, should they wish to do so.

"There is a panoply of sources from which email users could have learned of Google's interceptions," Judge Koh wrote. "Determining to what disclosures each class member was privy... will lead to numerous individualised inquiries that will overwhelm any common questions."

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About the author

Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

 

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