Originally published September 14 2014
Google tries to memory hole truth about its outrageous email spying activities
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) As the world's leading technology, media and information company, Google has been growing in power and global influence for nearly a decade. But not everything the company has done has been good -- or ethical -- or legal.
As noted in a recent column for USA Today by Thomas R. Burke and Jonathan Segal of the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm -- which represented media companies including the corporate parent of USA Today, Gannett Co. Inc., in a Gmail case against Google -- the media giant tried to hide "bombshell" information from the public:
It turns out that Google, which bases its business on collecting and analyzing huge reams of data for advertising purposes, has been scanning users' emails even before users have a chance to open or read them, including email messages that are deleted without being opened. Google knows what's in your email before you do.
Talk about your massive privacy breach.
'Putting toothpaste back in a tube'
That revelation came vis-a-vis a lawsuit that has since been settled regarding Google's Gmail service, the pair said. Scores of the nation's largest newspapers and media companies battled to ensure that the case in question, as well as its wide-ranging implications for all Internet users, got a full public airing.
"It has been an unfolding drama ever since," wrote Burke and Segal, "affecting what analysts estimate are 500 million Gmail users worldwide."
The media giant tried, but failed, to redact information about its email-scanning processes from a public court hearing transcript; in August, the judge in the case ruled that parts of the transcript from the February court hearing could not retroactively be redacted and thus hidden from the public, because that would be akin to the closure of a public courtroom.
"The company's attempt -- akin to putting toothpaste back into a tube -- was a reversal of its previous position in the lawsuit, a pledge that there would be a 'fully public airing of the issues raised by plaintiffs' motion for class certification,'" the lawyers wrote. "The NSA recently used the very same tactic when it tried to secretly delete portions of a public court transcript in a lawsuit filed against its surveillance practices."
Now, however, the public is much more aware of how Google collects personal information from Gmail users and users of Google Apps, without their permission or knowledge, and, in this particular case, how the company was able to fill an important gap in its data-mining operations to steal even more information.
According to the lawyers, this is what happened:
In 2010, Google was staring at "a vexing problem." The company was missing out on "a treasure trove of personal information" from tens of millions of Gmail users who managed to slip past its primary analytical tool, "Content OneBox." Anytime users accessed their Gmail accounts via Microsoft Outlook or their iPhone, the data-mining program was not able to capture information. So Google looked for a way to fix this issue.
Only the latest Google privacy scandal
Within a few months, the media giant managed to "shrewdly" move the Content OneBox from Gmail's storage area to the delivery pipeline, the lawyers wrote, which meant that the company could now scan emails before they were received. As Google explained:
Google made a choice. They said, you know what, when people are accessing emails by an iPhone, we are not able to get their information. When people aren't opening their emails or they are deleting them, we are not able to get their information. When people are using Google Apps accounts where ads are disabled, we are not able to get that information. When people are accessing Gmail through some other email provider, we are not able to get that information. So what they did is they took a device that was in existence already and operating just fine back in the storage area, and they moved it to the delivery pipeline.
There were massive privacy consequences associated with this action, noted Chris Hoofnagle, the director of privacy programs at the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, who said, "The content one box infrastructure would allow Google to understand the meaning of all of our communications: the identities of the people with whom we collaborate, the compounds of drugs we are testing, the next big thing we are inventing, etc."
The Gmail scandal is just one of many multiple Google privacy scandals. Check out all of them here: PrecursorBlog.com.
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