Google Scanning Controversy

Google’s lawyers argue that their long-standing practice of electronically scanning the contents of people’s Gmail accounts in order to sell ads is perfectly legal and they have requested a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that attempts to stop the practice.

In court records filed before a federal hearing on Thursday, September 5 in San Jose, Google argues that “all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing.”


The class action lawsuit was first filed in May 2013. It argues that Google “unlawfully opens up, reads, and acquires the content of people’s private email messages” in violation of California’s privacy laws and federal wiretapping statutes. The lawsuit notes that the company scans messages sent to any of the 425 million active Gmail users from non-Gmail users who never agreed to the company’s terms.

The company has repeatedly described exactly how it targets its advertising, which is based on words that appear in Gmail messages. For instance, if someone has received a lot of messages regarding photography or cameras then it might display an advertisement from a local camera store. Google says that the process is fully automated, that is, “no humans read your email…”


The company’s attorneys have presented a motion to dismiss the case, saying that “This case involves Plaintiff’s effort to criminalize ordinary business practices that have been part of Google’s free Gmail service since it was introduced nearly a decade ago.”

Critics say…

Of course, privacy advocates criticize the company’s scanning practices and have done so for a long time. According to Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court, “People believe, for better or worse, that their email is private correspondence, not subject to the eyes of a $180 billion corporation and its whims.”


Google’s Gmail scanning practices have been under scrutiny for a long time. In May 2013, the company faced a class action lawsuit which accused it of opening, reading and acquiring people’s private emails. In early September, the company’s legal team presented courts with a motion to dismiss the case altogether.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT), a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Data access – business rationale (I.H.b.)
  • Access mechanisms (I.H.c.)



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