The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California last month issued a ruling, in In Re: Google Inc. Gmail Litigation, that will make it more difficult for email and other communication services to provide their services free of charge. The court ruled that Google violated the federal Wiretap Act – and some state wiretap laws – by scanning Gmail users’ emails to serve them targeted ads and to develop user profiles. Of course, Google derives much of its revenue from such targeted ads, thereby avoiding the need to charge users for its email service. The decision does seem vulnerable to reversal on appeal, though, and Google has asked the Ninth Circuit to allow it to appeal before there is a final judgment. If the decision is not reversed, you can expect to see a new item at the top of Internet companies’ proposals for amending the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. For this is (or should be) a much more important issue to them than whether law enforcement needs a warrant to obtain the content of communications.
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