Google has said users of its hugely popular Gmail services should not expect privacy when using the tool, in a frank admission that it scans the contents of emails to provide relevant adverts.
The firm made the claim in a court filing in a case against US rights group Consumer Watchdog, with its counsel arguing that having emails read by the firm is not that big of a deal.
“Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient’s [email provider] in the course of delivery,” Google said in the filing.
“Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.’”
Consumer Watchdog called the admission in the filing “stunning”, and privacy project director John Simpson said it perfectly underlined the search giant's attitude towards users.
“Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy,” he said. “People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy don’t use Gmail.”
Simpson went on to deliver a blistering attack on Google for its "wrong-headed analogy" too. "Sending an email is like giving a letter to the Post Office. I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on the envelope," he said.
"I don’t expect the mail carrier to open my letter and read it. Similarly when I send an email, I expect it to be delivered to the intended recipient with a Gmail account based on the email address; why would I expect its content will be intercepted by Google and read?”
However, Google argued in a statement that claims it does not take privacy seriously are untrue. “We take our users’ privacy and security very seriously; recent reports claiming otherwise are simply untrue. 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," it said.
Google has come under fire for scanning emails from its rivals, with Microsoft hitting out at the firm for its practices as part of its Scroogled advertising campaign. Despite the issue Google remains the most popular web email service, with over 425 million users.
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