60-Second Tech

Are Google's E-mail Scans Wiretapping?

A group of e-mail users have filed suit claiming that Google's scans of Gmails for commercial data gathering purposes is in fact wiretapping. Larry Greenemeier reports.

Most of us are unlikely to be the target of a wiretap. Although that assumption depends on how you define “wiretap.”

A group of e-mail users are claiming that, when Google scans Gmails looking for ways to serve customized ads to Gmail users and create user profiles, it’s wiretapping. Some of these claimants are Gmail users, but many are non-Gmail users who correspond with people who use Gmail addresses.

The lawsuit says that non-Gmailers never agreed to have their e-mails intercepted and scanned by Google.

The company tried to get the case tossed. A U.S. district judge did throw out claims that Google violated state privacy laws. But the judge allowed the federal wiretapping case to proceed.

Google can defend itself by proving it needs to scan messages to provide its e-mail service. Or it can ask non-Gmail users for permission to keep doing what it already does.

Not exactly the stuff of a Hollywood spy thriller. Still, in this era of NSA whistleblowing and Wikileaks maybe people are starting to wonder about the privacy costs of “free” e-mail.

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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