MISSOULA, Mont. - A consumer advocacy group, Consumer Watchdog, is speaking out against Google after the internet giant's lawyers defended the company's scanning of people's Gmail messages as a means of facilitating targeted advertising.
According to a court document filed requesting a class action lawsuit against Google be dismissed, Google's lawyers cite a past case (Smith v. Maryland,) in quoting "a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties."
The document earlier states: "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 communications are processed by the recipient's ECS provider in the course of delivery."
NBC Montana caught up with a constitutional law professor to discuss his interpretation of the issue.
"What is at issue in this case is, whatever that expectation [of privacy] is, did you sign it away when you consented by signing up for the email's service in the first place?" said Professor Anthony Johnstone, pointing out how Google has a lengthy terms of service contract that users agree to when they begin using the service.
In the motion to dismiss, Google's attorneys point out that the email scanning has been utilized in the free service since Gmail started up nearly a decade ago.
NBC Montana also hit downtown Missoula to get residents' reactions to the debate. Some said allowing Google to scan emails for keywords for advertising comes with the territory, while others say the access is an invasion of privacy.
"I don't think Google should have access to my email account. That's private information and I think it's an invasion of my privacy for Google to be able to access my Gmail account," said Missoula resident Chris Ryan.
"I'm OK with that if it's solely used for advertising purposes and it's completely impersonal, like nobody can dig into that information," said Montana resident Yuri Dubler.