Gmail flagged over privacy concerns
But technology experts argue email is never private and users agree to that
A U.S. consumer advocacy group is urging the public not to use Gmail if they care about their privacy, following statements made by Google in a court filing this spring.
Santa Monica, Calif.-based Consumer Watchdog raised the alarm after reading statements in a motion filed by Google on June 13 asking a California district court to dismiss an individual and class-action complaint that accuses Google of violating wiretapping laws by scanning users' emails for keywords that are then used to target advertising at those users.
In a statement this week, Consumer Watchdog particularly took issue with Google's argument that "just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient’s [email provider] in the course of delivery."
The statement called that a "stunning admission" and John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's privacy project, accused Google of admitting "they don't respect privacy."
"If you care about your email correspondents' privacy, don't use Gmail," he wrote.
Many technology experts and observers did not share Simpson's reaction.
"I am not stunned and I don't know why anyone would be, to be honest with you," Stan Matwin, director of the Big Data Analytics Institute at Dalhousie University in Halifax, told CBC News.
He noted that Google is able to offer a free email service by making money off users' data.
"If we want security and free email, we have to pay with our privacy. It's that simple."
However, he noted that no human is actually reading your email — it's all scanned by software.
Nilay Patel, managing editor of The Verge, observed on the technology website that Google's argument actually pertains to non-Gmail users who send an email to Gmail users, suggesting that not using Gmail won't help.
David Gerhard, a computer scientist at the University of Regina, likened emails to postcards, suggesting that they are never private, regardless of the provider.
"Anyone who processes that postcard is free to read what it says on the back," he told CBC Radio. He noted that Google sees itself as protecting users' privacy by not sharing its data about you with anyone else.
"Frankly, if you're worried about security, you shouldn't be sending emails, full stop."