Google Settles Gmail Privacy Dispute With Teen User

Google has agreed to resolve a privacy dispute centered on Gmail ads with the last remaining plaintiff -- a teenager identified in court documents as “J.K.” -- according to court records.

The “stipulation of dismissal,” filed on Monday with U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, Calif, doesn't disclose whether any money changed hands.

The move comes around two months after Google settled allegations brought by a group of adult Web users who accused the company of violating their privacy by scanning Gmail messages. J.K., who was 16 when the case was brought, didn't join in that settlement.

This week's settlement appears to resolve litigation dating to 2010, when J.K. and the other plaintiffs alleged that Google violated federal and state laws by intercepting people's emails in order to surround them with ads that match keywords in messages. Web users brought at least six separate lawsuits against Google, which were later consolidated.

Google lost a round in the lawsuit last September, when Koh rejected the company's argument that users consent to the scans by accepting the company's terms of service. Koh said at the time that Google didn't clearly explain to users that the company might send ads based on email content.

But several months later, Koh handed Google a significant victory in the case when she refused to allow the Web users to proceed as a class-action. That decision deprived users of the ability to enter into the kind of sweeping settlements that have resulted from other privacy class-actions.

Google recently rewrote its privacy policy, apparently in order to address Koh's concerns. The company's terms of service now says: “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.”

Google first rolled out contextual ads on Gmail in 2004. At the time, privacy advocates expressed concern about the implications of scanning people's messages in order to serve ads. But the company wasn't sued for the practice until six years later.

Tags: email, legal, privacy
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