Google successfully beat back an attempt to unifyÂ hundreds of millions of Internet users in joining a lawsuitÂ claiming it illegally scanned private e-mail messages to createÂ targeted advertising and build user profiles.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, Calif., ruled on Tuesday that letting the case proceed as a class actionâ€”which would have allowed plaintiffs to pool resources and putÂ greater pressure on Google to settleâ€”would prove unwieldyÂ because the claims would be â€œintensely individualized.â€
Legal experts, including Stanford Law School ProfessorÂ Deborah Hensler, said before the ruling that while the plaintiffsÂ faced difficulty joining forces, the case stood to potentiallyÂ become the largest group lawsuit ever. The amount at stake couldÂ have reached into the trillions of dollars if, as the plaintiffsÂ argued, each person was eligible for damages of $100 a day forÂ violations of federal wiretap law.
Google (GOOG) said it was â€œglad the court agreed that we haveÂ been upfront about Gmailâ€™s automated processing,â€ though thatâ€™sÂ not exactly what Koh concluded.
In a small opening for plaintiffsâ€™ lawyers who mightÂ consider taking another chance with a smaller group, KohÂ amplified a concern she expressed previously that the companyâ€™sÂ terms of service and privacy policies about its interceptionsÂ werenâ€™t explicit enough to constitute consent from InternetÂ users to let their messages be scanned.
Especially with respect to e-mail users at some educationalÂ institutions, Googleâ€™s disclosures were â€œvague at best, andÂ misleading, at worst,â€ Koh wrote.
â€œThe court found that certain statements in the privacyÂ policies, which stated that Google would collect â€˜userÂ communications â€¦ to Googleâ€™ could actively obscure Googleâ€™sÂ interceptions,â€ she wrote.
The question of whether the proposed class membersÂ consented to the alleged interceptions has been â€œcentral toÂ this case since it was filed,â€ Koh wrote. Based on the evidenceÂ presented so far, â€œconsent must be litigated on an individual,Â rather than class-wide basis,â€ she said.
Article source: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-03-20/google-beats-back-e-mail-users-mass-privacy-suit-dot-for-now