Google privacy. Oxymoron?

If you use Google, have you ever read their privacy policy? If you haven’t, please keep reading. The policy delineates under what circumstances Google can peruse your information, including your e-mails, for disclosure to third parties. While you may not think the policy will ever affect you, your e-mails and other messages on Google could be disclosed by the company under certain circumstances. What are they?

Generally, Google will not disclose your information to third parties without your consent and, in the case of sensitive personal information, without your “explicit consent.” The company’s privacy policy makes clear, however, that it may disclose your information to “affiliates and other trusted businesses or persons,” which is a pretty broad category. Google also makes another exception to “[m]eet any applicable law, regulation, legal process, or enforceable governmental request.” These categories could include, for example, a subpoena sent to Google from a plaintiff in a copyright infringement lawsuit or a court order.

Even when you receive a notice from Google that a subpoena seeks the disclosure of your information, or identity, you still have choices. The same is true of a court order. You can ask that Google “quash” the subpoena — which means that the subpoena is overly broad or seeks information irrelevant to the underlying lawsuit. In the case of a court order, it can be stayed pending an appeal. Needless to say, if you don’t care about your information being disclosed, you can do nothing. But if the subpoena seeks to unmask you so as to name you in a copyright infringement lawsuit, or otherwise, doing nothing may not be wise. A fair use other other defense may conclusively establish that the lawsuit is a sham.

Rather than using Google — or even social media outlets like Facebook — with your eyes closed, it is probably better to know what you are getting yourself into. Otherwise, you may be unpleasantly surprised one day when you find out what you thought was private isn’t.

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