Google denies accessing journalist's email to spy on leakers

TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington has charged Google with accessing his Gmail account to find out who leaked news to him. Google denies it ever happened.

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Michael Arrington with Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. Dan Farber
Google has responded to claims by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington that the company accessed his Gmail account to find a person who leaked information to him.

In a statement to Recode on Tuesday, Google General Counsel Kent Walker said that Arrington's allegations are "serious." He added that while "terms of service might legally permit such access, we have never done this and it's hard for me to imagine circumstances where we would investigate a leak in that way."

Arrington took to his personal blog last week, saying that he was "nearly certain that Google accessed by Gmail account after I broke a major story about Google." Arrington, who claims the breach occurred years ago, said his source within Google was fired from the company after being presented with an email showing the person's correspondence with Arrington.

"The source had corresponded with me from a non Google email account, so the only way Google saw it was by accessing my Gmail account," Arrington wrote.

As Walker points out, email service providers are technically allowed to access user emails, per their terms of service.

That access became a big story last week when it was revealed that Microsoft accessed a blogger's Hotmail account after one of its employees leaked pre-release Windows 8 software to the person. The company was able to access the email without a court order, thanks to its terms of service. Microsoft subsequently confirmed that it snooped the blogger's email, saying that "this happens only in the most exceptional circumstances."

Google declined CNET's request for comment on Walker and Arrington's comments. For his part, Arrington acknowledged that Google denied his claim, but has so far not backtracked on his allegations.

Google shares are down .1 percent to $1,157.61 in early trading on Wednesday.

 

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