Google changes Terms of Service - Yes They Are Analyzing Your Email

Photo(Jennifer Abel @ ConsumerAffairs) If you use Gmail, bear in mind that Google has updated its terms of service to inform you that it is scanning and analyzing the contents of your emails.

Last August, Google faced a class-action suit in California, based on claims that its practice of scanning emails to put up customized ads violated state and federal anti-wiretap laws. Google initially responded by saying email users had no real expectation of privacy anyway:

“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. Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.’"

Last month, a judge struck down the class-action suit, not on grounds that the claims were unfounded, but on the grounds that the millions of individual Google users who might take umbrage with the scanning policy should not be lumped together into a single class-action case. However, the ruling did not preclude the possibility of individuals making individual claims against Google.

Implied consent

PhotoSo this week, coincidentally or not, Google updated its terms of service to say, in effect, that if you use Gmail, you automatically consent to having Google scans its contents.

Clicking on this link takes you to Google's Terms of Service page. If you scroll down or read through the first 849 words on that page (according to the “Word Count” function on my word processor), past the “Privacy and Copyright” section (which assures you: “Google’s privacy policies explain how we treat your personal data and protect your privacy when you use our Services. By using our Services, you agree that Google can use such data in accordance with our privacy policies), you will then come to the section titled “Your Content in Our Services,” which says this:

“Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) 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.”

The very next paragraph addresses another frequent anti-Google complaint: that it lumps all its services together to pump up their perceived popularity: For example, people who open Gmail accounts end up with Google+ accounts whether they want one or not – or even, whether they know it or not.

Or: you can no longer comment on YouTube unless you do so through Google+, and sundry other complaints that what happens in one part of your Google-based life can bleed over into other areas of it.

Google's updated terms of service suggest they intend to keep right on doing that:

If you have a Google Account, we may display your Profile name, Profile photo, and actions you take on Google or on third-party applications connected to your Google Account (such as +1’s, reviews you write and comments you post) in our Services, including displaying in ads and other commercial contexts. We will respect the choices you make to limit sharing or visibility settings in your Google Account. For example, you can choose your settings so your name and photo do not appear in an ad.

When PCWorld told its readers about the new changes at Google, it also noted: “The company did not immediately comment on why it had changed its terms of service again.”