Yahoo, Consumers Unable To Resolve Email Privacy Battle

Yahoo and Web users who say the company wrongly scans their email messages have been unable to resolve their differences out of court.

The Web company and users say in status report filed with U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh that they recently participated in an unsuccessful mediation session. “The parties did not reach an agreement,” states the document, which was filed late last week.

The battle between Yahoo and the consumers dates to October of 2013, when several people filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California accusing the company of violating their privacy by scanning their emails in order to surround them with ads. That lawsuit came several days after Koh ruled that a similar ad program by Google potentially violates the federal wiretap law.

The users who sued Yahoo alleged that they didn't themselves have Yahoo email accounts, and therefore never agreed to the company's terms of service -- which provide that Yahoo analyzes all communications in order to display relevant ads.

The consumers say Yahoo violates the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act by intercepting emails and scanning them for keywords. That law prohibits companies from intercepting communications without users' consent.

Google has scanned Gmail messages since rolling out the service in 2004. Yahoo only started doing so in 2011.

Earlier this year, Koh handed the plaintiffs a victory when she rejected Yahoo's bid to dismiss the lawsuit. But she hasn't yet ruled on another key issue in the case -- whether the consumers can proceed as a class-action.

In a similar matter involving Google, however, Koh refused to allow the plaintiffs to bring a class-action. She ruled in that case that class-action status wasn't appropriate because the key question -- whether people consented to Google's scans -- required “an intensely individualized” evaluation of the facts. That lawsuit was later settled on confidential terms.


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