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Lawyers Get $4M, Consumers – 0 In Yahoo’s Internet Privacy Case

Just as Google, Yahoo announced in 2013 that they would begin scanning their users’ emails for targeted advertising purposes. Class-action lawsuits followed the company’s action, which was stating that Yahoo was violating the “personal liberties” of non-Yahoo Mail users. These persons were sending emails to Yahoo Mail users and realized that Yahoo was scanning their messages without their permission.

“Plaintiff and the Class are among the multitude of U.S. residents who have sent electronic communications or emails to a Yahoo Mail user or users, and whose personal liberties have been, and continue to be, intruded upon when these private communications are read or, in the alternative, eavesdropped upon by Yahoo,” the lawsuit reads. It said Yahoo’s new scanning policies violated federal and state privacy laws. “Yahoo’s e-mail scanning regime seriously threatens the free exercise of personal liberties, and is of the type of behavior that the U.S. Congress and the California Legislature has declared should not be tolerated in a free and civilized society.”

The latter lawsuit, which was one of six suits merged into a single class action, demanded a judge to halt the screening and award each victim “$5,000 or three times actual damages” in addition to “reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.”

A Silicon Valley federal judge closed the case three years later, ending in the past few days. She signed off on a settlement, which only rewarded the lawyers, not the victims. The attorneys received $4 million, and in addition to that, the settlement still allows the company to continue the screening of user emails.

The only major change the lawsuit produced was that Yahoo needs to do the email screening while the mails are on their servers, not in transit. According to the settlement, this move satisfies the California Invasion of Privacy Act’s (CIPA) claims. Yahoo only has to do the screening like this for the next 3 years, however, the firm says they will continue with this protocol after that time expires.

“As to the strength of Plaintiffs’ case, Plaintiffs have achieved their stated goal in this litigation: Yahoo will no longer intercept and analyze emails in transit for advertising purposes. Instead, for the next three years, Yahoo may only analyze incoming email after the email reaches a Yahoo Mail users’ inbox, and Yahoo may only analyze outgoing email after the email is in a Yahoo Mail users’ sent email folder. These changes, according to Yahoo’s Senior Manager of Engineering, will require “a considerable investment of time, money, and resources,” US District Judge Lucy Koh said.

The four named plaintiffs in the case will each receive $5,000.

Google has a similar class-action lawsuit going, which is still pending before Judge Koh. The suit is representing people with non-Gmail accounts whose messages were scanned by the Silicon Valley giant without consent.

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