Google's Settlement Over Gmail Scans Moves Forward

A federal judge has tentatively approved a class-action settlement of a privacy lawsuit against Google stemming from its prior practice of scanning email messages in order to surround them with ads.

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

"The agreement appears to be the result of serious, informed, non-collusive negotiations conducted at arms’ length by the parties’ experienced counsel," Koh wrote. She added that the resolution resulted from two mediation sessions, and that the deal doesn't " improperly grant preferential treatment to any individual or segment of the class."

Google said earlier this year that it will stop scanning emails for ad purposes. The resolution requires the company 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," but only for three years.

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.

Although 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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