American judge orders Yahoo to face class-action lawsuit for alleged snooping of people’s emails
Lawyers for Yahoo are braced for significant legal action after the firm allegedly accessing the content of emails sent to its Yahoo mail users from non-Yahoo Mail accounts.
Earlier this week US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California ruled that the search engine must face a nationwide class-action lawsuit from its users under the federal Stored Communications Act.
Yahoo is being accused of alleged privacy violations. Since October 2011, non-Yahoo Mail account holders apparently had their emails to Yahoo mail users copied and analysed by the firm. They allege that Yahoo did this search on keywords and attachments not only to detect spam and malware, but in order to create “targeted advertising” for its estimated 275 million Yahoo Mail subscribers.
This could potentially be a serious legal challenge for Yahoo. According to Reuters, last year Yahoo generated 79 percent of its revenue from search and display advertising.
Judge Koh’s decision to make these lawsuit a class-action lawsuit essentially means it will easier to obtain larger damages and more sweeping remedies at a lower cost for the plaintiffs. It is thought that the lawsuit has more than one million members.
Judge Koh rejected Yahoo’s arguments that some plaintiffs consented to its activity by emailing Yahoo subscribers even after learning how it used the information. She also rejected the argument that the alleged injuries were too disparate to justify class certification.
Judge Koh referred back to a case in March 2014, when she refused to certify a similar class action against Google on behalf of Gmail and non-Gmail subscribers because it was hard to determine which users consented to Google’s activity. She said there was a difference in the Yahoo case.
“Yahoo may have to, as a practical matter, adjust its scanning practises on an individual basis,” Koh was quoted by Reuters as writing. “That does not, however, change the fact that plaintiffs seek uniform relief from a common policy that Yahoo applies to all class members.”
In March 2014, Google had faced potential legal action from a group of Gmail users over its controversial scanning practices of Gmail messages.
But back then Judge Koh ruled that disgruntled users were not be able to fight the search giant as a group in a class-action lawsuit. Instead, they had to take Google on individually if they want to sue.
The following month in April 2014, Google updated its terms of service to explicitly explain to users that it scans emails to better understand them and target them with ads.
Yahoo spokeswoman Rebecca Neufeld refused to comment on the matter because of the active litigation.
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