Online privacy has been dominating the headlines for much of 2013. After it was revealed to the American public that the NSA monitors phone conversations and online activities of US citizens, there has been a heightened sensitivity towards anything deemed as an invasion of privacy. It probably doesn’t warm your hear to know that Google scans your emails in order to deliver relevant online advertising to the user.
Online Advertising That Knows You As Well As You Do
Yesterday, a federal judge ruled that Google may have violated wiretapping laws by monitoring its users’ Gmail accounts. Keywords pulled from your personal emails are then used to target online ads on your browser. This practice has been a part of Google’s and Yahoo’s business models for some time. Online advertising is the most profitable aspect of their businesses so it’s not necessarily surprising that they’ll use their resources in order to make their advertising platform more effective.
Google points to a provision of the Wiretap Act in which there is room for email service providers to monitor emails that originated from their service. However, Judge Lucy Koh disagrees; believing that the provision does not intend to provide limitless leeway to email service providers.
Google is “disappointed” by the ruling and claims that its users give consent to the email scanning in the end-user agreement (that you surely read word-for-word). They are, of course, petitioning for an appeal.
Gmail, launched in 2004, is the world’s largest email service, with more than 425 million global users in 57 different languages. Google Adwords, originally released in 2000, is their primary advertising product, brought in revenues of $42.5 billion in 2012 alone.
Next time you send an email, keep an eye on the online advertisements that populate your screen. You might feel some (dis)comfort in knowing that both Google and the government are taking notes.