Google Agrees To Court Order Restricting Email Scans

Google recently promised to end its practice of scanning email messages in order to surround them with ads. Now, the company has also agreed to resolve a class-action privacy lawsuit stemming from its prior email practices.

The proposed settlement agreement, submitted Friday to U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, calls for a three-year injunction that could affect Google's ability to send ads to people based on the content of their emails.

Among other terms, the proposed settlement requires Google "to cease all processing of email content that it applies prior to the point when the Gmail user can retrieve the email in his or her mailbox ... and that is used for advertising purposes," according to the court papers.

Google also plans to stop processing email contents after they reach users' in-boxes, but the company will not be required to agree to that term as part of an injunction, according to the court papers. Instead, that change is viewed by Google as "independent of the settlement," but consistent with it, according to documents filed with Koh.

The deal doesn't call for individual users to receive monetary damages, but allows them to pursue their own lawsuits against Google. The class-action attorneys who brought the case could receive up to $2.2 million.

The settlement stems from a complaint filed in September 2015 by San Francisco resident Daniel Matera, who alleged that Google violates a California privacy law and the federal wiretap law by intercepting messages without people's consent.

Google's terms of service disclosed that it analyzed the contents of email messages for features including "tailored advertising." But Matera alleged that he didn't have a Gmail account, and therefore never agreed to those terms.

Koh rejected a previous settlement that would have required Google to make some technical changes to its scanning system. Koh said at the time that it wasn't clear how those prior terms would remedy the alleged violations of the federal wiretap law or California's privacy statute.

Even though Google will no longer scan emails for ad purposes, the company still plans to send targeted ads to Gmail users based on data such as their search queries and YouTube viewing histories.

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