SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Despite its promise to stop scanning emails for advertising purposes, Google let outside developers access and read millions of users’ private emails without consent, an Ohio man claims in a new class action.
Lead plaintiff James Coyne, of Ohio, sued the technology giant in federal court Thursday night, seeking damages and injunction to stop the Alphabet-owned company from letting third parties scan Gmail users’ inboxes without permission.
Last year, Google vowed to stop inspecting incoming emails for targeted advertising purposes to settle a privacy class action with Gmail users.
Despite its pledge to halt the practice, Google let hundreds of outside developers scan the inboxes of users who signed up for certain email-based services, such as trip planners or price comparisons. The third parties sift through and read emails to obtain data for marketing and other purposes, according to recent reports in the Wall Street Journal and online technology blogs.
One developer described the practice as what some might consider a “dirty secret” in the technology world in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
“Gmail users never provided consent to Google to provide privileged access to third-party developers,” Coyne says in his complaint.
Google’s press team did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Friday morning.
The allegations of privacy intrusions come at a moment of heightened scrutiny for technology firms after Facebook was rocked by a scandal earlier this year involving the exposure of 87 million users’ private data to a political consulting firm.
According to Coyne, Google’s lax policy of granting third parties access to emails stands in stark contrast to promises the company made to “keep privacy and security paramount” for Gmail users.
Had Google informed users that third parties would be given access to their emails, those users would have chosen to use a competing email service or severely restricted their use of Gmail to protect their private information, Coyne contends in his complaint.
He is represented by John Parker Jr. of Cutter Law in Sacramento, California.
In February 2016, Google announced it had more than 1 billion monthly active Gmail users.
Google’s parent company Alphabet brought in $117.8 billion in revenue in 2017 and was valued at $766.4 billion as of June 2018, according to Forbes.