by Bill Snyder

Gmail Users Should Expect No Email Privacy, Google Says

Sep 09, 20133 mins

Do you value email privacy? If so, don't use Gmail. Facing a lawsuit from angry consumers, Google told a U.S. court that Gmailers should understand their email can and will be scanned.

UPDATE: A reader asked in the comments if paid, corporate Gmail accounts are also scanned. Yes, they are. From Google: “For companies using Google Apps for Business, ads are turned off by default. Automated scanning does still occur to provide features like priority inbox, fast search and spam filtering.”

Who “owns” the content inside your email messages? If you use Gmail, not you.

Google is fighting a lawsuit filed by users who are angry over its practice of scanning Gmail messages. Here’s what Google has to say about your right to privacy:

“A person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties…Gmail users consented to the automated scanning of their e-mails, including for purposes of delivering targeted advertising, in exchange for using the Gmail service.”

I suppose that point is somewhere in the fine print of Google’s Gmail user terms, but take a look at this page and see if you can find it. I can’t.


I accept that Google sells advertising, and those of us who use its services are customers who pay for the privilege by having ads directed our way. Targeted ads are annoying, but I’m willing to put up with them; I think of them as a use tax.

I also understand that Google claims no human ever reads Gmail messages.That may well be true. But Google also said its Street View cars weren’t scooping up data from Wi-Fi networks – but they were.

Past indiscretions aside, there’s a larger point. What you write in your email is being scanned for a reason. It’s sold to data brokers that sell it to advertisers. Can Google guarantee the data is simply aggregated and that brokers and advertisers adhere to legal and ethical principles? Not really, no. 

The New York Times recently ran a piece about a website called, which lets you log in – if you don’t mind giving Acxiom, the data broker that hosts it, a few more bits of personal information – and see what the company knows about you. You might be shocked by what you find.

“Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy don’t use Gmail.”

A simple solution to a complex issue.

(The Consumer Watchdog website contains links to a number of court documents related to the privacy lawsuit.)