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Gmail = Wiretapping – Privacy Tactic


Many people have expressed confusion to me, regarding how adverts for terms they’ve been searching for, appear in adverts – as if “out of thin air”.

Most look at me blankly, when I explain that Google (GMAIL) are wiretapping your email – that’s why it’s free (and unlimited).

EPIC have raised this issue, in a legal action.

How can you even claim Google are doing this?

Lets discuss Gmail Patents shall we – always a nice firm foundation to start from, courtesy of EPIC:

Google has filed three different patents:

[The primary Gmail patent] United States Patent Application 20040059712: “Advertisers are permitted to put targeted ads on e-mails. The present invention may do so by (i) obtaining information of an e-mail that includes available spots for ads, (ii) determining one or more ads relevant to the e-mail information, and/or (iii) providing the one or more ads for rendering in association with the e-mail.”

United States Patent Application 20040059708: “The relevance of advertisements to a user’s interests is improved. In one implementation, the content of a web page is analyzed to determine a list of one or more topics associated with that web page. An advertisement is considered to be relevant to that web page if it is associated with keywords belonging to the list of one or more topics. One or more of these relevant advertisements may be provided for rendering in conjunction with the web page or related web pages.”

United States Patent Application 20040093327: “Advertisers are permitted to put targeted ads on page on the web (or some other document of any media type). The present invention may do so by (i) obtaining content that includes available spots for ads, (ii) determining ads relevant to content, and/or (iii) combining content with ads determined to be relevant to the content.”

But it’s not wiretapping is it?

“willfully and without the consent of all parties to the communication, or in any unauthorized manner”

  • Google’s actions are willful because the service is designed for the purpose of scanning and extracting the content of e-mail messages that pass through its Gmail system.
  • Google does not have the consent of all parties to each communication. While Gmail users arguably consent to scanning of their own e-mails, parties sending messages to Gmail users have no knowledge of Google’s scanning and extraction, and have not consented to these actions.

“reads, or attempts to read, or to learn the contents or meaning of any message, report, or communication”

  • Scanning of the text of e-mails and extracting, compiling, and using information from this text is an attempt to “learn the contents or meaning” of the communication.
  • While no human reads the content of e-mail passing through Gmail, the information extracted from these e-mails is available for human viewing in the form of keywords, advertisements, data, etc. Google claims that this information is collected without connections to personally identifying information and is viewed by humans only in aggregated form.

“while the same is in transit or passing over any wire, line, or cable, or is being sent from, or received at any place within this state”

  • A legal “jurisdictional” issue exists as to whether the e-mail is “within” California.
  • The statute is violated only if the reading/learning occurs while the communication is in transit, passing over any wire, or being sent/received. However, no court has addressed what it means under California law for an e-mail message to be “in transit” or “being sent from, or received.” It may turn on when in the path of the e-mails journey Google is scanning the e-mail and extracting content (e.g. whether it occurs before or after the e-mail has been “received” by the intended reader).


What can I do about this?

To quote the advice from EPIC:

  • Sign up with a different large capacity webmail provider.  Of course, the easiest thing you can do to prevent Google’s invasion of your privacy is to not sign up for an Gmail account. In fact, this is what Google and other Gmail advocates have been saying in response to privacy complaints-simply use another e-mail service.
  • Don’t send e-mails to addresses.   Remember, since Gmail is scanning and extracting incoming e-mails as well, even if you aren’t a Gmail user, your privacy may still be violated by Gmail. To avoid such scanning, keep an eye on the domain of e-mail addresses to which you are you are sending and replying.
  • Reduce the possibility of tracking you through your cookies.  See Ghostery blog.
  • The Gmail service may look at cookies from previous Google searches in deciding which ads to target to you in Gmail. One way to “decrease” the privacy violation if you do choose to use Gmail is to decrease the amount of information your browser keeps about your previous interactions with Google websites. EFF proposes two possible solutions to prevent “future linkability” (beyond deleting your Google and Gmail cookies each and every time you use Gmail and Google):
  1. Use two browsers. have one browser dedicated to checking your Gmail, which you never use for Google searches, thus preventing your Google search cookies from being linked to your Gmail account.
  2. Use an anonymizer.For example, download’s free privacy toolbar which enables anonymous browsing and blocks and tracks cookie settings.

However, it is unknown whether using these methods will “de-link” you from any information Google has already collected about your searching and e-mailing habits.

Zimmer states that Google is the surveillance infrastructure. 

The next decision, is yours, do you consent or not?

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