Google Averts Class Action in Gmail Privacy Lawsuit

Google has won a major victory in the privacy lawsuit involving the company’s alleged data-mining of private user e-mail messages when a federal judge ruled that millions of Internet users could not proceed in what could have been one of the largest class action lawsuit groups in history.

Millions of e-mail users sought to band together as a class claiming Google illegally invaded their privacy and violated federal wiretapping laws by regularly scanning their email messages.  U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh in San Jose, California ruled on March 18, 2014 that email users could not join together as a class because the issue of their consent was too individualized to proceed as a class.  Had the hundreds of millions of users been allowed to join as one class, the case could have amounted to trillions of dollars in damages given the $100 per day violation for each user under federal wiretapping laws.

Google allegedly intercepted users e-mails and employed keyword-scanning technology to read the content of those e-mails.  This data-mining is allegedly conducted as a means of constructing highly detailed profiles about users that the company can leverage for targeted advertising.  However, the various wiretapping laws Google is accused of violating contain certain exceptions, which make it legal to intercept communications, when the parties consent to it.  Google argued that Gmail users either expressly consented to the interception of their emails or impliedly consented to it by simply using the e-mail service in light of its privacy policy disclosures and news about Gmail’s data collection.

Plaintiff lawyers maintained to the court that Google did not tell users in any disclosures about its “content extraction” feature.  Judge Koh agreed and noted her concern, since the beginning of the case, that Google’s disclosures were too vague and misleading for users to be deemed to have consented to the e-mail scanning and data collection.  However, Judge Koh said that since individual users could have learned of Google’s email scanning from many differing sources, having to determine whether each individual user sufficiently consented to it the practice, for purposes of the wiretapping laws, would overwhelmingly predominate the group’s common issues as a class. (The case is In re Google Inc. Gmail Litigation, 13-md-02430, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California.)

Audet and Partners, LLP is a leader in pursuing consumer class action claims and has been on the forefront of privacy protection.  If you have questions, please contact our experienced lawyers at (800) 965-1461 or complete and submit the confidential inquiry form on the right side of this web page.

Source:  Rosenblatt, Joel, (2014, March 20); Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-03-20/google-beats-back-e-mail-users-mass-privacy-suit-dot-for-now

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