Google Up to the ‘Creepy Line’

Just a week after Google Inc. learned it must face federal wiretap claims for intercepting and reading email messages over Gmail, the plaintiffs have returned with an updated complaint.

The new version, filed Tuesday, will give the plaintiffs a chance to review California state law claims that Google violated the state’s Invasion of Privacy Act and Pennsylvania state law claims, which had been previously dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh told both sides last week that she was dismissing the state law claims for both states, but gave plaintiffs a chance to amend their claims.

The complaint cites Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt as saying in 2010, “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”

The lawsuit argues that ‘creepy line’ was crossed by Google’s alleged systematic reading of private email messages to collect and “mine” valuable information to profit from advertising.

Google automatically scans messages and provides ads based on the contents of emails.  The company has said no humans are involved in looking at emails.  The company has accused the plaintiffs of attempting to “criminalize” what is ordinary business practice.

The lawsuit was filed as a class action.  A hearing has been proposed for January 16, 2014, to determine whether it qualifies for class status.

The suit accuses Google of violation of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, as well as violations of California, Maryland, Florida and Pennsylvania privacy laws.

Google Street View

In a separate action, another federal suit has accused Google of violating wiretap law through the Street View mapping service.  In that case, the plaintiffs claim Google has collected private consumer data, passwords, banking information and emails as the cars with camera mounts pass by “sniffing” data transmitted over open WiFi networks.

Last month Google asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a recent decision that the Google Street View wiretapping case could proceed.

Case: In re Google Inc. Gmail Litigation, No. 13-md-2430LHK



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