Nationwide class action filed against Google for scanning emails

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Nov. 23, 2010, 4:30am

TEXARKANA, Texas - A Texarkana resident has filed a class action lawsuit against Google that claims the company violated privacy laws by scanning Gmail accounts in order to sell and place advertisements on account holder's user screens.

Keith Dunbar, individually and as representative on behalf of all similar situated persons, filed suit against Google Inc. on Nov. 17 in the Eastern District of Texas, Texarkana Division.

The lawsuit accuses Google of violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 by scanning the content of all Gmail from any sender and using the information to sell and place advertisements.

According to court documents, Google has admitted that it intercepts and scans all incoming emails of Gmail account holders, including those from non-consenting, non-Gmail account holders.

"As result of Google's actions in intercepting non-Gmail account holders' emails, Google obtains a monetary benefit without consent of the Class members and without compensation to them," the lawsuit states.

Within its policies, Google states that there is an expectation of privacy between an email sender and recipients and acknowledges that privacy is compromised if personal information or private email content is shared with anyone other than the sender and the intended recipients.

According to the complaint, Google does not consider that it is violating the privacy act because "it chooses not to consider itself as one of the parties other than the sender and intended recipient."

"Google scans the text of Gmail messages in order to filter spam and detect viruses, just as all major webmail services do," according to part of Google's policies quoted in the lawsuit.

The policy continues by stating Google believes showing relevant advertising offers more value and users will see text ads and links to related pages that are related to their messages.

The plaintiff is asking the court for an injunction to stop Google's violations and for an award of actual damages, disgorgement of profits, punitive damages and attorney's fees.

The proposed class is represented by Sean F. Rommel and James C. Wyly of Wyly Rommel in Texarkana, Chris Travis and Drake Mann of Gill Elrod Ragon Owen & Sherman in Little Rock, Ark., and M. Chad Trammel of The Trammell Law Firm in Texarkana, Ark.

U.S. District Judge David Folsom is assigned to the case.

Case No. 5:10-cv-00194

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