Can big email providers scan your messages in order to serve you relevant advertising? Google(s goog) and Yahoo(s yhoo) have long assumed the answer is yes, which is one of the reasons the giant companies provide free email to millions of people.
Last week, however, a federal judge in California refused to throw out a class action case against Google, ruling that people who swapped messages with Gmail users — but do not use Gmail themselves — had never given the search giant permission to read their email.
As a result, the judge ruled that Google could not simply say that the Wiretap Act did not apply, and permitted the case to go forwards towards a trial.
Now, other class action lawyers have seized upon the ruling to file a new lawsuit against Yahoo on behalf of 100 million people who do not use Yahoo Mail but have communicated with someone who does. The suit, which seeks at least $5 million, claims that Yahoo violates the Wiretap Act and related California laws that forbid intercepting private communications.
Yahoo was hit with a similar lawsuit over email scanning in 2012, but court records show the parties voluntarily dismissed that suit early this year.
The recent Gmail ruling has reopened the scanning debate because of ambiguity over the “third party doctrine,” a rule that says people don’t have an expectation of privacy when they share records with a third party who then shares it with someone else. The recent cases also turn on an exception under the Wiretap Act that says interceptions aren’t illegal if they’re made in the ordinary course of business.
The Verge’s Nilay Patel has a good rundown of the legal issues, including the reaction of what he styles “privacy tweakers.’
Here’s the new complaint: