Google Settles Portion Of Lawsuit About Gmail Ads

Google has resolved a dispute with a group of adult Web users who accused the company of violating their privacy by scanning Gmail messages, according to court papers.

In a “stipulation of dismissal” filed late last week, Google and the consumers say they reached a settlement agreement. The stipulation doesn't disclose any terms, including whether money changed hands.

But the settlement doesn't dispose of the entire lawsuit, because the deal only applies to the users who were over 18 when they sued. Google still faces allegations that it violated minors' privacy rights by scanning their email.

News of the settlement comes less than two weeks after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to consider the consumers' appeal of a ruling nixing a class-action. That decision, issued in March by U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, Calif., marked a significant loss for the consumers. It deprived them of the ability to enter into the kind of sweeping settlements that have resulted from other privacy class-actions.

The litigation dates to 2010, when users accused Google of violating federal and state laws by intercepting people's emails in order to serve them ads that match keywords in messages. Web users brought at least six separate lawsuits against Google, which were later consolidated.

Google argued that the case should be dismissed for several reasons, including that users consent to the scans by accepting the company's terms of service. Koh rejected that argument, ruling in September that Google's terms didn't clearly explain to users that the company might send ads based on email content.

The settlement applies to all of the cases that were consolidated except one, brought on behalf of a minor identified in court papers as “J.K,” a 16-year-old Gmail user. Koh tentatively scheduled a trial in that matter for October.

Last month, Google rewrote its privacy policy, apparently in hopes of addressing 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.”


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