Massachusetts woman sues over Gmail snooping

A class action lawsuit accuses the Web giant of violating Massachusetts law for intercepting electronic communications of non-Gmail users.

Jay Greene Former Staff Writer
Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).
Jay Greene
2 min read

A Massachusetts woman has filed a class action suit against Google for snooping into e-mail sent by people who don't have Gmail accounts to those that do, and using the information gleaned to sell targeted advertising.

Debra L. Marquis filed a class action suite on behalf of Massachusetts residents who do not have Gmail accounts and have sent mail to accounts with Gmail addresses. People without Gmail accounts have not consented to having their emails scanned, which Google does with Gmail messages in order to serve advertising that's presumably relevant to Gmail customers.

"In order to target advertisements to Gmail users," the suit alleges, "Google intercepts electronic communications to and from Gmail users with a device, without prior consent of the non-Gmail users," a violation of a Massachusetts wiretapping law.

According to the suit, Marquis is an AOL account holder. On behalf of the class, Marquis is seeking damages of $100 per day for each violation, or $1,000, whichever is higher, as well as punitive damages. The suit also seeks an injunction preventing Google from violating the specific Massachusetts law.

In a statement, Google said, "We're not going to comment on the ongoing litigation. But to be clear, Gmail has from the beginning used automated scanning technology to show our users relevant advertisements that help to keep our services free."

Marquis' lawyer did not return a call seeking comment.

Gmail's scanning has occasionally been a lightening rod for privacy advocates. Google has faced similar suits in the past. And rivals, such as Microsoft, have taken the company to task for the practice. Last month, a Microsoft video surfaced featuring the "Gmail Man," a friendly letter carrier that peeks into giant red Gmail envelopes to the revulsion of recipients.