Yahoo Inc. is facing a class action lawsuit in California federal court after allegedly reading and using emails to make money off targeted advertising, profiling, and data collection. The plaintiffs’ lawyers claim that Yahoo violated both California’s Invasion of Privacy Act and the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
The complaint alleged that Yahoo actually uses that information for monetary gain.
In 2011, Yahoo introduced a new email system in order for the company to “look for keywords and links to further protect you from spam, surface photos, and in time, serve users with internet-based advertising,” according to the complaint. Yahoo gave its users a short grace period before they were automatically switched over to the new system.
The complaint likened communications between Yahoo Mail users and non-Yahoo Mail users to the United States Postal Service, because emails can contain communications, messages, or attachments requiring discretion, whether they be for business or personal purposes. The suit claimed that Yahoo users have a right to reasonably expect their emails be treated similarly in regard to privacy. Although the company explained that by scanning and analyzing all incoming and outgoing email, instant messages, and other communications they would be able to better personalize the user’s experience, the complaint alleged that Yahoo actually uses that information for monetary gain.
A similar class action suit was filed against Google recently after the company allegedly scanned Gmail users’ email to target advertisements. In an effort to dismiss the suit, the company argued that their practices fell under the “ordinary course of business” exception under the Wiretap Act. However, in September, a California federal judge rejected the motion to dismiss. Similarly, the plaintiffs in the Yahoo case claim that when the company scanned emails, it did not fall within Yahoo’s “ordinary course of business.”