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Is Google right, do we have “no legitimate expectation of privacy” in email?
Mon, 16th Sep 2013
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Over the last few months you’ve heard a lot about how Google is violating its users’ trust and privacy.

From reading every single word of every single email sent to or from your Gmail account, to replacing real shopping search results with paid ads, to sharing your personal information with app developers, to monetising the web searches that kids do in school.

In essence, Microsoft claims Google has made a mission out of invading your privacy to commercialise your most personal information.

"You’d think that after all of that coming to light Google would apologise, right? Wrong – they did just the opposite," says the Redmond company.

A few weeks ago, in an official response to a class-action lawsuit accusing Google of illegally reading Gmail users’ private messages, Google said that “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 communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS provider in the course of delivery.

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

"You’re reading that right," Microsoft claims. "Google is saying that because your emails pass through their servers, you should expect that they’re reading it.

"And Google gives an example: just like if you send a colleague a letter you should assume that their assistant is reading it.

"But common sense says that’s ridiculous; clearly, when you send a personal communication to a friend or colleague, either on paper or online, you expect that the message will be read only by that person. (BTW, that’s why it’s a US federal crime for letter carriers – or anyone who’s not you – to open your mail without permission while it’s en-route to your mailbox.)

"It gets worse. Not only does Google think you shouldn’t expect privacy in email, they think you shouldn’t expect to have privacy when you’re using WiFi in your own home."

Just a few days ago, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the interception of personal data transmitted on private Wi-Fi routers by Google Street Cars (yes, the same ones you see driving around your neighborhood taking pictures of your house) might violate federal wiretapping laws.

According to the FCC, Google Street Cars, without permission, “…collected names, addresses, telephone numbers, URL’s, passwords, e-mail, text messages, medical records, video and audio files, and other information from internet users in the United States.”

"Oh…and did we mention that they’re actually trying to patent Scroogling" Microsoft adds.

"Google may say one thing to consumers, but their true colours always come out in court."

Is this the perfect case of sticking it to your rivals or does Microsoft have a valid point?