- April 16, 2014
- Posted by: Seth Heyman
- Category: Internet Law
On Monday, Google amended its terms of service to inform its users that it scans both outgoing and incoming e-mail content for advertising and customized search results, among other reasons. The amendment reads as follows:
Our automated systems analyze your content (including e-mails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.
As detailed in a previous post, a vanishingly small percentage of Internet users actually read the terms of service associated with any online service they use, and this change to Google’s terms will do nothing to change that. But while Gmail account holders are at least afforded the opportunity to accept or reject these terms, what about those of us who do not use Google’s email service? Our emails are also being scanned, without our knowledge or consent. Do we have an obligation to read Google’s terms?
Even as Google is changing its terms, this issue is being heard in the courts. E-mail users sued Google last year, charging the company with violating wiretapping laws by scanning the content of e-mails. At least some of the plaintiffs sent their e-mails to Gmail users from non-Gmail accounts and had their content scanned, without their knowledge or consent.
Whether Google has the obligation to announce its practices before people send emails to its users will eventually be worked out. All it needs to do is to include a notice on its search engine page (which everyone uses) alerting consumers that they should read certain terms and conditions governing the transmission of emails to Gmail accounts. If it had done so from the beginning, it could have protected itself from being sued, and no one would have read those terms and conditions anyway.