Google Inc., fighting claims that it illegally scanned private email messages to and from Gmail accounts, will not face a single lawsuit that could have lumped together hundreds of millions of Internet users, a judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, this week refused to let the case proceed as a class action. Legal experts including Stanford Law School Professor Deborah Hensler said before the ruling that the case stood to potentially become the largest group lawsuit ever.
Email users claimed Google intercepted, read and mined the content of email messages for targeted advertising and to build user profiles. The amount at stake in the case could have reached into the trillions of dollars if, as the plaintiffs argued, each person was eligible for damages of $100 a day for violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
Koh's ruling has implications for email privacy cases assigned to her that were filed last year against Yahoo! Inc. and LinkedIn Corp., which also have hundreds of millions of users. In each case, class-action status would allow plaintiffs to pool resources and put greater pressure on defendants to settle.
Sean Rommel, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in the Gmail case, and Google representatives didn't respond after regular business hours to email messages seeking a response to today's ruling.
Similarly giant cases have been brought against Facebook Inc. and Hulu as Web users challenge how companies monetize their data for the online advertising market that generated more than $40 billion in the U.S. last year. Google, meanwhile, faces another privacy case in federal court in San Francisco brought on behalf of everyone in the U.S. whose wireless Internet connections were intercepted by company vehicles gathering information for the Street View mapping service.