Judge Allows Lawsuit Against Yahoo Over Illegal Email Data Collection Used To Target Ads

A U.S. judge has allowed Yahoo Inc to face a nationwide class-action lawsuit for illegally intercepting the content of emails sent to Yahoo Mail subscribers from non-Yahoo Mail accounts, and then using that information to boost advertising revenue.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California ruled late Tuesday night that people who sent emails to or received emails from Yahoo Mail subscribers since Oct. 2, 2011 may sue as a group under the federal Stored Communications Act. The suit alleges privacy violations.

The judge also ruled that a class of non-subscribers of Yahoo Mail in California since Oct. 2, 2012 are also entitled to sue as a group under that state’s Invasion of Privacy Act.

Yahoo is accused of copying and then analyzing the emails of non-account holders, including keywords and attachments, to create “targeted advertising” for its estimated 275 million Yahoo Mail subscribers. It also used the data for detecting spam and malware.

The groups sought an injunction barring the interceptions, as well as damages. In 2014 Yahoo generated 79 percent of its revenue from search and display advertising.

Its estimated that more than one million people are part of the class action suit.

Koh rejected Yahoo’s disingenuous argument that plaintiffs consented to its activity by emailing Yahoo subscribers even after learning how it used the information, and that the injuries were too disparate to justify class action status.

“Yahoo may have to, as a practical matter, adjust its scanning practices on an individual basis,” Koh wrote. “That does not, however, change the fact that plaintiffs seek uniform relief from a common policy that Yahoo applies to all class members.”

The case shows that as Federal Judges become more tech savvy serial privacy abusers, such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo, face consequences for practices that blatantly and illegally violate user privacy.

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