Everywhere you turn recently you’re surrounded by news of the latest phone hacking scandal. When a newspaper hacks into a person’s voicemail, there is no gray area. You don’t need to be a solicitor or have a legal background to know it’s wrong. Not just morally wrong, it’s against the law.
But it does bring up a broader question: under what circumstances can a business legally monitor someone’s electronic communications? This really struck me during the last few weeks… my brother recently proposed to his girlfriend and in the weeks running up to the proposal there was a stream of emails between my brother, sister and I referring to rings and diamonds. After a few back and forth emails I noticed that virtually all of the advertisements popping up on the side of the Gmail email conversation were referring to diamonds. Coincidence? Definitely not. Which encouraged me to review Google’s policy entitled Ads in Gmail and your personal data. Here you find lots of consumer friendly language completely in line with the trendy and hip Google image. Google’s articulated goal is to “provide Gmail users with ads that are useful and relevant to their interests.” How do they do this? To use their own example, if you’ve recently received several messages about photography or cameras, a deal from a local camera store might be interesting. And these are the type of ads that will appear when you’re using Gmail. Google seeks to assure users that “no humans read your email… ad targeting in Gmail is fully automated.”
Ok, some would argue that targeted ads do assist users. If you’ve been talking about diamonds, you might well be in the market for a sparkler. But let’s call a spade a spade. Google is a multi-billion dollar business. Targeted ads help their advertisers, which in turn generates revenue for Google. More money for Google, or do they really want to help you find that perfect engagement ring?
This is an area of law that is governed by both Irish and European legislation. In the last month we have seen the introduction of several new electronic privacy regulations which include regulations in regards to what’s known as cookies. Cookies are small items of code that are placed on a user’s computer by a website. They are essential for a functioning web but they can also be used to monitor behaviour for the purpose of targeted advertising. Under the new regulations users must consent before cookies are placed on a user’s computer. Users must also be given clear information about the cookie and its purpose.
In reality, for most web users these regulations will not have any major impact. Most of us will continue to tick the box, click “I Agree” and move on to sending that email.
But it is something to consider before you start those conversations. Whether it’s a person or an automated scan, some form of Big Brother is definitely watching.
For more information on:
Ads in Gmail and your personal data: http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=6603
Irish Cookie Regulations:
Taylor Solicitors Cork