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Google’s Terms of Service infringe on rights

Story by Avery Gregurich

Yasmina Madden isn’t too concerned about who is looking at every email she writes or receives. Madden, a visiting professor of English, said she even felt bad for those hapless souls who had to do the deed.

“I pity the fool who wants or has to read my email,” Madden jokingly said.

This statement comes a little over two weeks after a class action lawsuit was brought against Google for doing just that.

Ten people are suing the tech giant for reading their emails, which they feel is a direct violation of their privacy.

The plaintiffs are citing the California Invasion of Privacy Act in their lawsuit and are even incorporating the Federal Wiretap Act.

Google insists that when users sign up to use any of their services, they agree to this practice of information screening. In their privacy policy, it states that Google may “collect information about the services that you use and how you use them.”

“We use this information to offer you tailored content, like giving you more relevant search results and ads,” the privacy policy states.

Their terms of service have a lengthy list of just what Google can do with your “private” information.

“When you upload or otherwise submit content to our services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content,” the terms of service states.

While the lawsuit against Google is a recent development, their “prying eye” practices have been around for some time.

“Google has been doing this for a while now,” said junior David Murley, a computer science major.

When you use their search engine, for example, the company lets “third parties know what you search in order to allow advertisers to show you products you like,” Murley said.

He also doesn’t feel that Google is alone in these activities.

“Ever notice how you shop for something on Amazon and the next day that product is advertised on Facebook? It’s the same principle,” Murley said.

Murley said he believes that part of the problem lies in the contracts.

He called terms and conditions contracts “bulky” and “sticklers.” Despite this, he said he feels that the contracts “are not going anywhere.” He does believe, however, that there is some hope on the horizon for more accessible and readable contracts for consumers.

“Websites like tosdr.org rate terms of service/terms and conditions on many categories,” Murley said. “People definitely are working together to help the non-techie know what they are agreeing to.”

Sophomore Emily Gregor  said she feels it’s a problem of users being oblivious to what they are blindly agreeing to.

“People are often times ignorant of what the fine print means,” Gregor said.

Like Murley, she believes the structure of the documents is what makes them inaccessible to some.

“The format of terms and conditions make it challenging for people to know what they’re agreeing to,” Gregor said.

Gregor insisted that despite numerous attempts over the years, companies still have not found an effective way to advertise to consumers through the web.

Google’s practices of email scanning are to her just another example of companies “trying hard to connect to people with advertising on a web-based medium.”

While Murley adamantly disagreed with Google’s practices, Gregor sees it as just a result of living in the 21st century.

“There are very few parts of life that are private anymore.” Gregor said.

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