Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) will have to defend itself against charges of wire-tapping after Federal judges ruled that two separate cases may both proceed against the search giant, reports Caroline Moss for Business Insider.
Google’s wrietapping case
The case is significant because the basic facts aren’t really in question: Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) scans the contents of Gmail users’ email using algorithms (though it would be interesting to find out what safeguards exist to prevent Google employees from peeking at specific users’ messages). Information gleaned from the emails is then used to target ads and generate demographic data.
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The question is whether this practice amounts to illegal wiretapping.
No one has ruled against Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) yet, but two Federal judges have allowed suits against Google to move forward. Both suits already involve multiple plaintiffs who had originally filed separately, and it looks like they may turn into large class-action suits, raising the stakes considerably.
Email providers could be targeted next
Other email providers are surely watching this case carefully, because if Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) is found guilty, then Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) and others could easily be next in line. So far, Google has no reason to be happy. Judge Lucy Koh, who once asked an Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) lawyer if he was smoking crack during the Apple-Samsung patent case and is generally known not to be a pushover, released a 43-page order for the cases to continue that attacked Google’s legal arguments from start to finish.
“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,” said Electronic Privacy Information Center Lawyer Alan Butler. “The case could have long-term consequences for all e-mail services.”
But it’s not just email services that could be affected. There is very little practical difference between an email sent via Gmail, and a message sent on Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB). Both are being mined for information by the platform that transmits them, and both are protected by dubious user agreements that no one reads and don’t have a strong legal standing. Twitter is a separate case because tweets are inherently public, but almost every other major online company could be affected as the practice of mining ostensibly private online data for commercial gains comes into question.