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updated: 8/16/2014 7:41 AM

Yahoo ordered to face privacy claims over scanned e-mail

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  • Yahoo! Inc. was ordered to face claims it illegally shared the content of emails in the latest ruling to hold Internet companies accountable for how they convert users' personal data into advertising dollars.

      Yahoo! Inc. was ordered to face claims it illegally shared the content of emails in the latest ruling to hold Internet companies accountable for how they convert users' personal data into advertising dollars.

 
By Joel Rosenblatt
Bloomberg News

Yahoo! Inc. was ordered to face claims it illegally shared the content of emails in the latest ruling to hold Internet companies accountable for how they convert users' personal data into advertising dollars.

Privacy lawsuits against Yahoo, Google Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. are gaining more attention after a ruling by U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh in March that Google's privacy policy was vague and possibly misleading about how it mined emails for information. The most popular search engine later changed its user terms.

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The cases are requiring Koh and her colleagues in San Jose, California, 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.

Koh allowed email users to pursue Yahoo's alleged violation of a California anti-wiretapping and anti- eavesdropping law that prohibits unauthorized interceptions of communications. The judge rejected Yahoo's claims that the law can't be applied because emails it received en route to a recipient are in electronic storage rather than in transit. Concluding she couldn't know that until the case is more developed and the two sides exchange information, Koh said the lawsuit could go forward on that allegation.

'Important message'

David Straite, a lawyer representing the users, said in an email that part of the ruling "sends an important message, one that we've seen in other cases, that Silicon Valley must respect the California legislature's decision to provide greater privacy protections than the federal government does."

Sara Gorman, a spokeswoman for Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo, declined to comment on the decision.

Koh granted Yahoo's request to throw out an invasion of privacy claim under California's constitution. She also dismissed a federal wiretap claim that the company's terms of service don't notify users that their emails with non- subscribers of Yahoo Mail will be intercepted, scanned and analyzed to create user profiles and for advertising purposes. The judge also set aside a claim that Yahoo failed to properly disclose it would collect and store the content of users' e- mails for future use.

Koh permitted users to go forward with an allegation brought under a different provision in wiretap law that Yahoo illegally disclosed to third parties the content of emails between Yahoo Mail users and people with non-Yahoo addresses.

The judge is presiding over a group of lawsuits filed against Yahoo last year that seek class-action status.

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