Google updates TOS to clarify email scanning process

New paragraph in the Web giant's terms of service is intended to more clearly explain the manner in which software automatically scans and analyzes the content of emails.

Steven Musil
Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
2 min read

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google updated its terms of service on Monday to more clearly explain how the company can analyze user content to create targeted ads.

The terms of service, which went into effect Monday, includes a new paragraph that explains the manner in which Google's software automatically scans and analyzes the content of user emails when they are sent, received, and stored.

"Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection," the company said in its updated terms of service. "This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored."

Google said the changes were intended to make the company's privacy policy easier to understand.

"Today's changes will give people even greater clarity and are based on feedback we've received over the last few months," the company said in a statement.

Google has come under fire from privacy advocates who contend that the Web giant's automated scanning of email represents an illegal interception of their electronic communications without their consent. However, Google, which uses automated scanning to filter spam and deliver targeted advertising to its users, has noted that users consent to the practice in exchange for the email services.

Google, which has been accused in several lawsuits of violating privacy and wiretapping laws, won a major legal victory last month when a federal judge rejected a request to combine several cases under a single class action lawsuit. In her decision, US District Court Judge Lucy Koh wrote that user consent was central to the lawsuit and as such must be litigated on an individual rather than class action basis.