In response to a lawsuit Google has disclosed that, from the company’s perspective, no one should be expecting their emails to remain private. This is likely news to most gmail users who create a password thinking that limits access to their account and probably expect their emails to be private.
“Plantiffs accuse Google of violating the privacy of its users by mining their personal messages for information that it uses to inform which targeted ads it displays. The suit calls for Google to fully disclose exactly what information it’s taking from emails, and to pay damages for these alleged violations of privacy.
The company argued in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit that “all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing. “
That is an interesting attitude. A clear implication would be allowing the NSA to automatically process everyone’s gmail account emails.
Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS provider in the course of delivery. Indeed, “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.” Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 743-44 (1979).“
On the surface this seems reasonable, that once you send information to someone else you can’t expect them not to share it with other people. However, that is not what Google is saying.
Instead, Google is saying that users of gmail should realize that Google is the third party. By writing an email in gmail the user is essentially sending Google the email and therefore cannot expect privacy. If Google shares those emails with whoever it wants, well, you should have known better.