Gmail Lawsuit Could Make Anti-Spam Software Illegal


A British Columbia man has filed a lawsuit against Gmail, demanding $500 in damages per
email and an injunction to stop the popular email service from scanning user’s emails in order to deliver targeted ads. He insists that Google is violating the Privacy Act, infringing copyright and breaching the Competition Act.

He’s doesn’t even have a Gmail account, he is simply angry about having his emails to Gmail users scanned. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that no human at Google looks at the emails sent and received by Gmail users. It’s all a completely computerized and automated process that looks for specific keywords, nothing more.

The suit sounds frivolous but bears watching. Should the man win, it could mean anti-spam software manufacturers will have their products outlawed. Those types of software use the same technology Gmail does, only they look for keywords known to be used often in spam messages and use that data to flag suspicious messages and either block them, blacklist the sender’s domain/IP, or send them to a junk folder.

“If electronic scrutiny of private email constitutes an interception then all anti-spam software violates that as well…the same probably with virus checkers,” Santa Clara University School of Law professor Eric Goldman said. “In the US I consider similar lawsuits to be dead on arrival,” Goldman said. “They have no merit. I can’t speak to Canadian laws.”

Do you think there is any need for concern? Personally I think the suit will be thrown out of court. Google isn’t harvesting, saving, or selling data from Gmail user’s accounts, and that means no privacy violations. I think it’s just a guy hoping to get a nice payday from Google. Do you agree?

Written by Sue Walsh


  1. Isabel Foster · October 14, 2012

    I really do find the lawsuit silly for a lot of reasons. First he doesn’t have a Gmail account, simply relying on other people’s opinions. So he doesn’t really know for sure if the claim is true or not. Second, he doesn’t even try to research how Google does ad targeting and marketing. Third, if he wins, it will cause serious repercussions. Come on, man, be a little smarter! It doesn’t take a lot of effort to know how things work before you react, right? If you hate Google that much, then go to Yahoo! I love Gmail, for Christ’s sake.

  2. Jessica Morning · October 16, 2012

    This is very interesting. All I know is you can’t sue someone over something that doesn’t concern you at all in any way or at some point. I don’t know why courts allow these types of silly lawsuits. They do take a lot of money and energy. But back to the issue pointed out by the writer here, yeah, he actually has a point. If this wins (and we do have idiotic cases that have been won), then that means spammers and scammers now have that one huge open door to take advantage of. That’s awfully scary!

  3. Jason Rogers · October 16, 2012

    Even if he wins, I don’t think this will impact anti-spam software and Google scanning emails because then clauses that make the user accept scanning will be included in the terms of service. Something like, “Your emails might be scanned for security reasons. By sending emails to addresses in the domain, you agree to this”. In other words, you are warned and if you send an email, then you agree to the terms of service. It’s not that easy to outlaw anti-spam software.

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