Google has quietly updated its terms of service to acknowledge that the company scans the content of email messages sent and received through its Gmail service.
The change follows a lawsuit filed by Google mail users in late 2013 for alleged violation of privacy over the scanning of email contents that, in some cases, were to Gmail addresses by people who use other services, such as Yahoo Mail or Microsoft’s Outlook.com. Plaintiffs who filed the suit in California argued in September that its scanning of the messages violates state and federal wiretapping and privacy law.
Plaintiffs had been seeking $100 a day for each privacy violation, which could have reached into the trillions of dollars had a judgment been awarded against Google. The company acknowledged scanning the contents of messages in a March response to the lawsuit.
Google lost a bid last year to have the lawsuit tossed out, but won a small victory in March when the judge overseeing the case denied the plaintiff’s motion to achieve class-action status, saying the case at hand couldn’t be resolved with a single judgment.
By acknowledging the message scanning, the company appears to be trying to dissuade any future privacy lawsuits. The lengthy terms of service, which every user general agrees to without reading when they sign up for or maintain a Google account, offers a sort of protection for Google against users who may want to raise future privacy issues, though terms of service agreements generally aren’t immune from existing federal or state laws.
“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.”
While this may stifle any argument from a user who claims their privacy is violated with message scanning, it doesn’t resolve the privacy issue raised by non-Google users who send messages to those who use Gmail. It is unclear how the comany will handle that issue if it is raised in the future.