Google defends online snooping in California privacy cases

Employers regularly monitor workers’ Internet activity to make sure employees what they’re paid to do. Companies also want to make sure confidential business information doesn’t leak to outside sources.

Off-the-clock workers often believe personal electronic communications are safe from prying eyes. Consumers mistakenly think restrictive privacy settings sever access to online activities. Most browsers offer “no-track” settings. In truth, there are few legal sanctions to prevent Google or other Internet companies from following your virtual habits.

Google successfully deflects serious penalties for prying into users’ personal information, despite numerous past and present privacy rights lawsuits. Federal officials slap Google with fines the company can easily afford. The Internet search engine’s $150 billion value provides nearly-bottomless funds for intellectual property litigation.

The company was named as the defendant in two recent California privacy cases. Federal courts heard arguments about Google’s right to open users’ Gmail and gather data through Wi-Fi transmissions.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reprimanded the tech giant for using Google Street View vehicles to do more than map out and photograph locations. Google crews simultaneously collect personal user information from Wi-Fi networks along the way.

The court said Google’s data Wi-Fi interceptions required technical expertise akin to wiretapping. A mere $25,000 fine was levied. Google officials were unapologetic. The company’s stance is that almost “anyone” can access, save and use Wi-Fi data.

Google feels nothing online is private. The court reminded the company that the public did not share that sentiment. The defense for Gmail tracking was similar. Opened, scanned emails were justified by saying, in essence, that consumers – even those who use other browsers to contact Gmail users — should understand confidentiality does not exist.

State laws address Internet privacy rights, but statutes are considered weak by the head of California’s consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog. The group is hoping to introduce a clear “no-tracking” bill late next year.

Source: sfgate.com, “Privacy laws need update for Internet Age” Jamie Court, Sep. 13, 2013