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Google knows everything about you. Who will they tell?You might be sick of hearing about privacy issues. Between concerns about who can see your Facebook profile and whether or not Google is evil, not to mention the awkward power of mobile GPS and the President’s questionable ability to turn off the Internet, the shifting concept of personal privacy is a hot albeit tiresome topic. But I think the latest infringement on personal privacy, as reported here by MediaPost, is worth noting. It’s a little hard to believe.

Here is what happened:

1. Rocky Mountain Bank screws up, big time

A Rocky Mountain Bank branch in Wilson, Wyoming accidentally sends an email to a random Gmail user. This email contains the account numbers, social security numbers, and other personal information of more than 1,300 bank customers. Oops.

2. Rocky Mountain Bank tries to fix its (huge) mistake

Upon realizing their egregious error, the Bank emails the Gmail user requesting he destroy the information. It also asks Google to reveal the identity of the Gmail user and Google, in accordance with its privacy policy, refuses.

3. Rocky Mountain Bank feels ignored and seeks litigious revenge

After failing to receive a response from the Gmail user, the bank pulls out the big guns and sues Google to have the user’s Gmail account deactivated. Boom.

At this point in the story the bank starts to sound like a woman (or man) scorned. In a world where we are instantly gratified and always connected, a failure to receive a timely response to an email, text message, or phone call is often enough for anyone to feel insulted, act irrationally, and for all intents and purposes, lose it.

But this isn’t the world of interpersonal relationships we’re talking about and this isn’t a person losing it, it’s an entity. How long did the bank wait before deciding the Gmail user was ‘ignoring’ them? Where did the bank draw the virtual line? And who says they have the right? Apparently, the federal courts. Read on.

4. US District Court Judge James Ware rules in favor of Rocky Mountain Bank

A US District Court in Northern California rules in favor of Rocky Mountain Bank and orders Google to deactivate the Gmail account of the email recipient and reveal his identity and contact information to the bank, despite the fact that the recipient did absolutely nothing wrong.

Holy something Batman. Yes, it’s true, you’re reading this right: a Gmail user lost his account access and all of its history because a bank employee, who the Gmail user had never met before in his life, sent him an email in error. Uh.

Looks like our information isn’t so safe with Google after all. Was it ever?

Do you think this is fair? If you were the bank, would you feel you entitled to demand a random person lose their email account? What would you do as the user? And what does this say about Google’s ability to ‘protect’ our personal information?


2 thoughts on “Privacy? Forget About It.
  1. Joe says:

    Holy smokes, Rocky Mountain Bank! You’ve just unleashed a new playing field! And guy with the Gmail account that got hit blindside. Can you say “pwned”?

  2. It gets better…

    After deactivating the user’s Gmail account, Google and the bank both asked the judge to reinstate it. They want to reinstate it, but they can’t without the judge’s permission. Check it out: http://bit.ly/kXn98.

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