Google updates terms of service to reflect its scanning of users' emails

The company clarifies that emails are automatically scanned to provide users with tailored advertising and better search results

Google has updated its terms of service to reflect that it analyzes user content including emails to provide users tailored advertising, customized search results and other features.

The Internet giant's scanning of users' email has been controversial with privacy groups describing it as an intrusion into user privacy.

Competitor Microsoft claims in its "Don't Get Scroogled by Gmail" campaign that its Outlook.com email service is superior to Gmail as unlike Google it does not go through email looking for keywords to target users with paid advertisements.

In a case in California over Google's interception of email, District Judge Lucy H. Koh said that Google's terms of service and privacy polices did not explicitly notify the plaintiffs "that Google would intercept users' emails for the purposes of creating user profiles or providing targeted advertising." Google's decision to change its terms of service may have been prompted by these comments.

In the consolidated multi-district litigation brought by users in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose division, the users alleged that Google had violated state and federal wiretapping laws by scanning the content of messages sent through Gmail, to serve ads to users among other things.

Google contended that Gmail and all Google Apps end users had explicitly consented to its alleged interceptions, relying on various terms of service and privacy polices in effect between 2008 and 2013, according to court records.

Judge Koh, however, denied class action status to the petitioners to the consolidated lawsuit. The plaintiffs have sought permission to appeal.

The new Google terms of service, that went into effect on Monday, adds the provision that "Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored."

Google has amended its terms of service previously and its last such change was in November last year.

The company did not immediately comment on why it had changed its terms of service again.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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