Google agrees to change its email scanning systems to avoid a privacy lawsuit

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The fact that Google scans the contents of emails sent and received through Gmail has been known for some time now. It's just one of the ways in which the company gathers information about users to help deliver targeted advertising. Faced with a lawsuit over the privacy implications of this technique, Google has agreed to change its scanning systems.

Before you check to see whether hell has indeed frozen over, this is hardly a dramatic change of heart for Google. The change is only very slight, and in practice it will make little -- if any difference -- to end users.

In a case brought against Google at the Northern California District Court, the technology giant was accused of effectively eavesdropping on users' communications. Rather than face a potentially lengthy and expensive legal battle, Google instead chose to put forward a voluntary settlement option.

The Matera vs. Google was not, interestingly, brought to court by disgruntled Gmail users. Rather it was the work of lawyers acting on behalf of non-Gmail users who were not happy that email they sent to Gmail addresses were being scanned. While people were not happy about the fact their emails were being scanned in the first place, there was particular concern that the scanning was taking place before the email even reached a Gmail inbox.

Google's solution is to introduce a very, very small delay in scanning. As reported by the Verge, Gmail will still scan emails before they hit inboxes in order to check for spam and viruses, but when it comes to scanning for ad-related purposes this would be delayed until emails actually reached inboxes. Google's proposal has still to be accepted by judges, and the case could still see the company paying up to $2.2 million in fees.

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