Jeff Chiu/ AP Photo/ File
Google bicycles at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. Gmail users have no "reasonable expectation" of privacy, according to court documents.

Gmail users do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, says Google

Google denied that it violates consumers' privacy when it reads e-mails, according to court documents 

Gmail users and their contacts have no reasonable expectation that their correspondences will not be scanned for the purpose of targeting advertising, according to a Google court document.

“People who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient’s [e-mail provider] in the course of the delivery,” reads a Google federal court brief.

Consumer Watchdog, a longtime antagonist to the Internet giant, published the document on Monday. The case centered on complaints that Google was scanning e-mails transmitted over the company’s servers to target advertising.

“You drop a letter in the mail, someone opens it, that’s a federal crime,” says Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director John M. Simpson in an interview with the Monitor. E-mail correspondences should be no different in regards to privacy, Mr. Simpson continues.

Google responded with a statement that the company takes its privacy and security very seriously. "We have built industry-leading security and privacy features into Gmail -- and no matter who sends an email to a Gmail user, those protections apply," according to a statement the company emailed to the Monitor. 

Simpson’s assertion highlights a glaring issue that continues to face all companies with access to their users' data: Federal data privacy laws have not kept up with technology.

In Google’s court brief, the company describes its systematic collection of data for the purposes of targeted advertising as an “ordinary business practice.” The company’s lawyers cite Smith v. Maryland, which states “a person has no legitimate expectation in privacy information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.” As third parties to all e-mail correspondences, service providers have no claims to privacy. 

Google and other Internet service providers’ information-harvesting techniques have come under increased public scrutiny in the past few months after former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden leaked classified documents detailing a large-scale, secret data collection plan, PRISM.

“The NSA could not be doing what it was doing if these various tech companies weren’t such treasure troves of data,” says Simpson. “I mean Google is really a data mining company that knows more about you and me” than we probably do. 

Update: The story has been corrected to clarify that Google was referring to non-gmail users who use Gmail have no reasonable expectation of privacy– not Gmail users. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Gmail users do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, says Google
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today