Posted in War on Privacy

Google tells court that Gmail users have no legitimate expectation of privacy

At last, the truth is starting to seep out of Mountain View:

In a stunning admission contained in a brief filed recently in federal court, lawyers for Google said people should not expect privacy when they send messages to a Gmail account. Consumer Watchdog said today that people who care about their email correspondents’ privacy should not use the Internet giant’s service.

Google’s brief said: “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 emails are processed by the recipient’s [email provider] in the course of delivery. Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.’”  (Motion to dismiss, Page 19)

Consumer Watchdog has posted the motion to dismiss in its entirety here.

The admission is stunning in the sense that it contradicts the facade on privacy Google has long tried to publicly maintain. Worker bees at Google have tried to paper over statements by the likes of Eric Schmidt about the company policy being to get “right up to the creepy line” but not cross it. Google claims users are always free to leave, and it has a project called the Data Liberation Front, which is intended to facilitate allowing Google users to take their data somewhere else if they choose.

In response to Consumer Watchdog’s unveiling of the court filing, Google said:

We take our users’ privacy and security very seriously; recent reports claiming otherwise are simply untrue. We have built industry-leading security and privacy features into Gmail — and no matter who sends an email to a Gmail user, those protections apply.

Sure. And we here at LGB always take Google at their word!

Seriously, though, if that’s the case, what’s with the court filing then? As John Simpson says:

“If they take privacy seriously, then they must amend their brief and stop reading and analyzing the content of email we send to their system,” said Simpson.  “If Google stands by the claim of no expectation of privacy it asserted in the court filing, they cannot claim to respect users’ privacy. These two claims are obviously incompatible.”

Or are they? Google is such a behemoth now that perhaps the legal department isn’t always acting in concert with the public relations and marketing division. It certainly appears that the position Google has taken in court was not one that the marketing division is comfortable representing to the public. And no wonder: it undermines all the false and misleading claims Google has made over the years about user privacy in its offerings, Gmail included.