Have you ever signed into your Gmail account and noticed an advertisement in your sidebar that seems all-too-relevant to you? You may wonder: how does Google know me so well?

Well, much of that specialized treatment stems from Google’s scanning technology, which allows Google to scan your Gmail messages for keywords and concepts to identify your interests and create a user profile, which allows targeted advertisements to match those interests.

Yet Google may be in trouble for seemingly reading your mind by essentially reading your emails. According to Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California, Google’s email scanning system may violate federal and California wiretapping laws. On Thursday, Judge Koh denied Google’s motion to dismiss a class action suit brought against it, finding that Gmail users and non-users did not consent to having their emails scanned for nuggets of targeted-advertising gold. Judge Koh stated that a reasonable Gmail user who reads Google’s privacy policy cannot be expected to fully appreciate the company’s email scanning process, and non-users do not consent to having their messages scanned when their messages interact with Gmail.

It is too early to tell what this will mean for Google (and other free email providers like Yahoo and Microsoft), but Judge Koh’s green light is an initial victory for online privacy advocates. Time will tell whether this case moves to trial or is heard by the Ninth Circuit via an interlocutory appeal.

If Google is forced to stop using its email-scanning system, will you miss the individualized ads that appear next to your inbox? Or, will you be happy to know your emails are safe from prying eyes?

Veronica Gordon

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One Response to You’ve Got Ads

  1. Emily says:

    Wow! Privacy continues to be a hot button issue for private companies and the government alike! I think it will be interesting to see how this case develops, particularly considering that any sort of protection of consumer privacy would have dramatic consequences for companies like Google, facebook, etc.