Can Google Be Trusted With Your Private Information?

| by Public Citizen

How much of your personal information is Google willing to turn over to a third party without a fight? We’ve asked a California federal court to unseal a report that would give customers of the world’s largest Internet company an answer to that question.

Google handed the report in question over to a judge in September to comply with a restraining order requested by Rocky Mountain Bank. The bank requested the order after it mistakenly sent the bank records for more than 1,000 customers to the wrong Gmail account. In the order granted by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, Google was told to deactivate the Gmail account and to provide contact information about the user of the Gmail account and whether he or she had read the e-mail. Google and the Gmail account holder also were told they couldn’t read the email, download the records or forward them to anyone.

A Gmail user who did nothing wrong had his or her account shut down because of the bank’s monumental screw up. And Google, a company that basically prints its own cash, didn’t lift a finger to protect the rights of one of its users. I love my Gmail account but this is a good reminder that there is NO privacy with any e-mail provider when push comes to shove. Public Citizen is representing Media Post Communications in this case. One of their reporters, Wendy Davis, has written extensively about the bank’s bungled email and Google’s lack of intestinal fortitude:

Some lawyers say the [court's] order is problematic because it affects the Gmail account holder’s First Amendment rights to communicate online, as well as his or her privacy rights . . . Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, adds that the judge’s order could have significant ramifications for the Gmail account holder. “Losing an email account is a big deal,” he said. “It’s very disconcerting to think that a judge could simply order my account deactivated.”

Media Post wants to review the sealed report – with the Gmail user’s identifying information redacted. Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy says anyone who trusts Google/Gmail with their private information should be interested in what happens in this case.

“Beyond the bank’s sheer incompetence is the fact that Google wants to keep this report secret to avoid embarrassment at how easily it gave in to Rocky Mountain Bank’s violation of the Gmail user’s rights,” said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who, along with Erica Craven-Green of San Francisco, is handling the case. “Google’s customers have a right to know the amount of information the company released.”