Court orders Yahoo to face privacy suit over scanned email

Facing allegations of scanning email to target advertising. — Reuters file pic
Facing allegations of scanning email to target advertising. — Reuters file pic

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 13 — Yahoo! Inc was yesterday ordered by a federal judge to face a lawsuit alleging its scanning of email to target advertising violates users’ privacy rights.

In a mixed ruling, US District Judge Lucy H. Koh in San Jose, California, granted Yahoo’s request to throw out federal wiretap claims that its terms of service do not notify users their emails with non-Yahoo Mail users will be intercepted, scanned and analysed to create user profiles and for advertising purposes. Koh also dismissed claims that Yahoo failed to properly disclose it would collect and store the content of users’ emails for future use.

Koh said in yesterday’s ruling she will permit the users to go forward with an allegation brought under a different wiretap claim that Yahoo might have illegally disclosed to third parties the content of emails between Yahoo Mail users and people with non-Yahoo addresses

Koh has presided over privacy suits against Yahoo, Google Inc and LinkedIn Corp. In March, she said Google’s privacy policy was vague and possibly misleading. Google later changed its terms. Privacy experts and defence lawyers have paid increasingly close attention to the judge’s rulings as such cases accumulate in San Jose, requiring Koh and her colleagues at the court to reconcile wiretap laws written in the landline-phone era with users’ concerns about how companies use the troves of data generated when people send emails and surf online.

The lawsuit against Sunnyvale-based Yahoo in California, filed last year, was brought on behalf of residents of San Bruno, California, and seeks class-action status. It claimed Yahoo’s interception of email was used without proper consent to profit from targeted advertising, profiling, data collection and other services unrelated to Yahoo Mail.

Sara Gorman, a spokeswoman for Yahoo, did not immediately respond to an email after regular business hours seeking comment on the decision.

The case is Holland v. Yahoo! Inc, 13-cv-04980, US District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose). — Bloomberg

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