Ever noticed those advertisements that surround your Gmail? Ever felt like they were just a little too related to what is in your Inbox?
It has never been a secret, but many people are unaware that for six years, Gmail has been scanning incoming emails in order to populate relevant advertisements. But just because it's being done openly doesn't make it legal, says a Texas resident who has filed a lawsuit against Google. Keith Dunbar says the Gmail ads are violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.
Keith Dunbar filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, alleging that Google is violating federal wiretap laws by intercepting "all emails sent to Gmail account holders." One might ask: But don't Gmail users agree to their terms and conditions when the sign up for a Gmail account? Yes, they do. But what about all of the people who don't use Gmail but send a message to a Gmail user? Have they consented to scanning their messages? It will be up to the court to make that determination.
Google says their Gmail ads process is legal, automated and "involves no humans." When Gmail first introduced the feature in 2004, there was a backlash and over 31 organizations sent letters of protest to Google. But in the end, the backlash died down and it was somewhat assumed that scanning the messages to populate advertisements was legal.
Google has been dealing with a swarm of privacy issues lately, ranging from their social network, Buzz, their Street View cars and more. It will certainly be interesting to watch this case as it will have implications that will ripple across the internet.