NEW YORK (MainStreet) When was the last time you emailed yourself something from work? Or had a private moment over chat, the kind you'd like to keep just to yourself? If you're like most of us the answer is "relatively recently." According to Google, however, that's just too bad. All of that information, from your confidential memos to your love letters, is now fair game.
You see, in a recent filing in federal court, the Internet giant announced that no one should expect privacy when sending messages to or from a Gmail account.
"Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient's assistant opens the letter," Google wrote in a brief to the court, "people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient's ECS provider in the course of delivery. Indeed, 'a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.'"
The phrase "legitimate expectation of privacy" is a loaded one, as it's only one (arguably equivalent) word away from the legal standard of "reasonable expectation of privacy," the test for whether or not third parties and government agents can search through your belongings. An argument that its users have no legitimate expectation of privacy over the contents of their emails is, essentially, arguing that the contents of any message to pass through Google's servers is fair game for anyone to whom the Internet giant feels like selling it, whether that be private companies, government agencies or vengeful ex-girlfriends.
This argument applies to both users of the popular Gmail service and anyone who sends them a message. Google considers an address ending in gmail.com fair warning: anything you say will be read, and not just by the recipient.