Yahoo must wait to snoop into people’s email: class-action settlement

Yahoo has agreed to stop snooping into the emails of non-customers – until it has the correspondence on its servers. The agreement came out of the company’s settlement in a class-action lawsuit. On Tuesday, a U.S. District Court judge in San Jose gave preliminary approval to the settlement between Yahoo, and four individuals and the class the plaintiffs represented.

The four were not Yahoo Mail customers, and claimed that Yahoo’s interception, scanning and storage of their correspondence with Yahoo customers violated their right to privacy and broke California wiretap law. Yahoo, like Google, scans email content in order to sell ads targeted at individual people. The case did not reveal if and how Yahoo uses the contents of non-customers’ emails.

Yahoo’s terms of service allow the firm to scan and analyze emails between both parties to a correspondence. But of course when one party is not a Yahoo Mail user, they’re unable to consent to the terms.

In an earlier ruling, Judge Lucy Koh had thrown out the privacy claim, leaving only the illegal-interception issue.

Under the settlement terms, Yahoo “will now only analyze emails for content when these emails are no longer in transit and after these emails reach a Yahoo Mail user’s inbox or outbox,” Koh’s ruling said. Because alleged violation of privacy was taken off the table, the settlement addressed only Yahoo’s information harvesting from in-transit emails; the firm is free to continue scanning and analyzing non-customers’ emails, once they arrive in a customer’s Yahoo Mail box.

Once the settlement is finalized – a final approval hearing is set for Aug. 25 – Yahoo is to adopt new email architecture reflecting the agreed-upon protocol, and keep it in place for three years. In the settlement, the company said it would continue to use the new architecture after the three years, Koh’s ruling said.

The preliminary approval follows nearly two and a half years of legal wrangling. Plaintiffs in October 2013 had filed six class-action lawsuits against Yahoo over essentially the same allegations, and later that year the court consolidated them into one suit.

Yahoo has agreed not to oppose any request to the court that it pay plaintiffs’ legal fees, up to $4 million. Plaintiffs receive no money under the settlement, but the settlement would not preclude future monetary claims, Koh said in her ruling.

In 2014, Google came before Koh over similar lawsuits about collection of email contents, and Koh refused to allow a class-action lawsuit to go ahead. Google ended up in a confidential settlement with plaintiffs, news website Ars Technica reported.

Yahoo did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Photo: Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


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  • simonts

    It is an outrage that Yahoo, Goog, etc, can legally read private e-mails to bother us with their darned unwanted ads. It is especially outrageous that Yahoo is allowed to do this even with the e-mails of their paying yahoo mail customers. Goog at least allows one to opt out of advertising, Yahoo of course does not. Our so called representatives in Washington seem to believe that advertising, as a corporate right is somehow enshrined in our constitution. It is NOT. The privacy of our e-mail communication or web browsing should be ensured by law, but it will never be because our so called representatives are actually owned by the companies making zillions from advertising.

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  • mikewalker70

    Next Class Action for Yahoo is going to be click fraud from Yahoo Gemini…. I assure you.