Lawsuit against Google over Gmail faces hurdle, U.S. judge says

SAN JOSE, California Thu Feb 27, 2014 8:03pm EST

An employee answers phone calls at the switchboard of the Google office in Zurich August 18, 2009. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

An employee answers phone calls at the switchboard of the Google office in Zurich August 18, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

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SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday said some plaintiffs accusing Google of improperly scanning their email faced a significant hurdle in their attempt to move forward with the lawsuit as a class action.

Litigation brought by nine plaintiffs, some Gmail users, some not, was consolidated before U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, last year. The plaintiffs maintain Google violated several laws, including federal anti-wiretapping statutes by systematically crossing the "creepy line" to read private email messages in order to profit, according to court documents.

The case is being closely watched as it could alter how tech companies provide email service.

Koh must decide whether the lawsuit can proceed as a class action, which would allow the plaintiffs to sue as a group and give them more leverage to extract a larger settlement. However, at a hearing on Thursday, Koh said plaintiff attorneys faced a "huge hurdle" to show that non-Gmail users were entitled to class action status.

Google argues in court papers that the identity of impacted non-Gmail users can only be ascertained by sending an email notice to all non-Gmail users whose addresses are on file in Google's systems, and then sifting through the responses. That kind of procedure would be unprecedented and unworkable, Google argued.

Koh did not issue a formal ruling on Thursday.

A group of media companies, including Reuters, has asked Koh to make public several documents that both sides submitted to the court under seal. Koh has not yet ruled on that request.

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is In Re: Google Inc. Gmail Litigation, 13-md-2430.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Ken Wills)

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Comments (5)
phalcon1 wrote:
It amazes me how short people’s memories are. When gmail first came out in 2004, you could only sign up for it if you were invited by someone (a pretty interesting marketing concept, which I hated). Even back then, and when it became open to anyone that wanted it, it had the scariest End User Agreement. They were not hiding the fact that you gave them the full legal right to read all of your email, incoming and outgoing, so that they could target ads for you. They specifically said that they can read all email, including messages to/from non-gmail addresses. For that reason alone, I was refusing any mail with a gmail address for a number of years.
Now I have a gmail account (only because of my Android phone though), but have never forgotten that google has been given permission by me to read any email that uses my address. But, it’s okay because I always assume that ANY electronic communication is being monitored, or at least archived, by someone somewhere.

Feb 28, 2014 4:51pm EST  --  Report as abuse
JamesPisgah wrote:
We have a bunch of greedy ungrateful users in gmail who are the cause of America’s decline in competitiveness. They did not exercise their own right in not wanting to use gmail in the first place. Claiming a violation of privacy when you clearly went in to use their free products and services. I think this class action suit is frivolous and wasting everybody’s time. I sincerely hope a cooler head can prevail among the judge to rule punitive damage in favor of gmail to teach all these opportunistic gold diggers a lesson in the free economy. I do not work for google but am grateful for their ability to provide truly useful products for all. Do not stifle this creativity by frivolous law suits like this !

I have a better word to describe these greedy folks namely rent seekers who are suing gmail “Rent-seeking implies extraction of uncompensated value from others without making any contribution to productivity.”

Mar 01, 2014 2:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
I don’t think scanning emails for advert placement is really any more invasive than scanning what an individual types into search engines to meet the same end. In fact, I would say that many people probably type far more personal information into search engines than they do into emails to various people. Furthermore, I can’t see how scanning email content for ad placement is much different than scanning emails for viruses and what not.

I think Google supply some of the best internet services for free and the fact is that you don’t have to use them if you are concerned about privacy. All search engines collect information about people and I can’t help but wonder how they would be able to run at all without a certain amount of that sort of functionality/profitability model sustaining them.

Mar 01, 2014 2:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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