The information age has rendered most of your online activity almost instantly traceable—and at the heart of this trend lies Google. We know this. We also know that while Google pushes the limit on privacy breaches, it doesn’t out-and-out snoop. As Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman succinctly said in 2010, “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it”. But recent legal proceedings have revealed Google’s real attitude to our personal information. In a motion to dismiss a suit against Google’s scanning of emails to collect data for advertising purposes, Google made some telling statements, the most notable of which was: “Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient’s [email provider] in the course of delivery”. In essence, if you use Gmail, you are automatically giving Google the right to go through your mails.
Legally, Google is using an older case—a 1979 US Supreme Court case, Smith vs Maryland, that appealed the use of wiretaps on telephones—to justify its position. In that case, the court ruled that “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties”. Google is arguing along similar lines. Google’s position may be strong legally, but the fact is that morals no longer seem to be a determinant of company policy.