Judge tosses class-action push for Google suit (Update)

March 19, 2014 by Paul Elias

A judge has tossed out an effort to win class-action status for a lawsuit accusing Google of violating the privacy terms of email users.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruled late Tuesday that too many users have too many dissimilar claims to pursue a single class-action lawsuit that could expose the search engine giant to billions of dollars in potential losses.

At issue is the scanning of contents of Gmail accounts and the related targeting of ads. Many other high-tech companies and email providers are closely watching the case, which is expected to better define privacy laws.

On Wednesday, Koh said it's impossible to know which email users consented to Google's privacy policies, complicating the push for class-action status.

The judge said "consent has been central to this case since its inception," and sorting out who knew and approved of Google's automated sifting of their emails and who didn't would be impossible.

Koh said some users might have actively consented to Google's action, while others became aware of it through media reports.

"There is a panoply of sources from which email users could have learned of Google's interceptions," she wrote.

Several similar lawsuits were filed across the country and were consolidated in Koh's courtroom in San Jose.

Though the judge didn't toss out the lawsuits, she barred lawyers from reformatting them to address her concerns and from asking again for class-action status.

"Usually the denial of class certification ends the lawsuits," said Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor. "It's too expensive to pursue them individually. This is a fantastic ruling for Google."

Sean Rommel, one of the lawyers representing email users who sued Google, didn't return a phone call seeking comment. He can appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

For its part, Google has maintained it does not open and read people's emails. Instead, the company says its process is fully automated, and software scans for keywords to help it target advertisements to consumers.

"We're glad the court agreed that we have been upfront about Gmail's automated processing, which allows us to provide security and spam protection."

Explore further: Google agrees to settle Buzz class action for $8M

Related Stories

Google agrees to settle Buzz class action for $8M

November 3, 2010

(AP) -- Google Inc., the top Web search provider, will allocate about $8.5 million to Internet privacy and policy organizations as part of a class action settlement involving its Buzz social hub.

Apple, Google chiefs face grilling on 'no-poaching'

January 19, 2013

Apple chief Tim Cook and Google chairman Eric Schmidt are expected to face questioning in a lawsuit accusing Silicon Valley giants of secretly agreeing not to "poach" one another's workers, according to officials and court ...

Google argues for right to continue scanning Gmail (Update 2)

September 5, 2013

Google's attorneys say their long-running practice of electronically scanning the contents of people's Gmail accounts to help sell ads is legal, and have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to stop the practice.

Recommended for you

Microsoft describes hard-to-mimic authentication gesture

August 1, 2015

Photos. Messages. Bank account codes. And so much more—sit on a person's mobile device, and the question is, how to secure them without having to depend on lengthy password codes of letters and numbers. Vendors promoting ...

Power grid forecasting tool reduces costly errors

July 30, 2015

Accurately forecasting future electricity needs is tricky, with sudden weather changes and other variables impacting projections minute by minute. Errors can have grave repercussions, from blackouts to high market costs. ...

Netherlands bank customers can get vocal on payments

August 1, 2015

Are some people fed up with remembering and using passwords and PINs to make it though the day? Those who have had enough would prefer to do without them. For mobile tasks that involve banking, though, it is obvious that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.