If you have a Gmail address, it’s likely you’ve seen ads that are specifically targeted at you based on what you’ve mentioned in correspondence. Talking about an upcoming wedding? You’ll see ads for florists or photographers. Making dinner plans? Ads for restaurants in the area.
The ads have long been a part of Gmail, and although they are triggered by the content of your emails the process occurs anonymously. Nobody is literally reading your email.
Now, Google must defend itself against accusations of illegal wiretapping, the New York Times reports. The accusations, which have been made over the last few years in various lawsuits and then merged into two separate cases, ask whether Google has gone too far when collecting user data. Two federal judges have ruled that both cases can move forward, despite Google’s protests.
Judge Lucy H. Koh is one of those judges.
Highly respected in Silicon Valley, according to the NYT, Koh has a fearless reputation. “During the Apple-Samsung patent trial, she made headlines for asking an Apple lawyer if he was “smoking crack.” She is expected to be just as tough on Google.
Google uses Gmail as its own secret data-mining machine, which intercepts, warehouses, and uses, without consent, the private thoughts and ideas of millions of unsuspecting Americans who transmit e-mail messages through Gmail,” lawyers for the plaintiffs argued on July 11, opposing Google’s motion to dismiss the case. On Thursday, Judge Lucy H. Koh of Federal District Court denied Google’s motion in a 43-page order that fought the company at almost every turn.
Alan Butler, a lawyer at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, tells the NYT it’s been a bad month for one of the world’s biggest web companies.
The Gmail case could have broad effects because nearly half a billion people worldwide use the service, and because if it is, as expected, certified as a class action, the fines could be enormous. At the same time, the case could have long-term consequences for all e-mail services — including those from Yahoo and Microsoft — and for the issue of how confidential is online data.