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Google Turns 15: A Legal Look Back

By Brett Snider, Esq. on September 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's Google's 15th birthday, and everyone is celebrating the essential search engine's quinceañera.

Google has provided some fun and frivolity with a piñata party-themed Google Doodle as well as a flashback to Google as it appeared in 1998.

But we wanted to give Google something as well. So in honor of its 15th anniversary, here are 15 legal tidbits you may have missed involving our favorite search engine:

  1. Don't expect Gmail privacy. Google recently cued its Gmail users into a fact they've probably known for years: There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in your Gmail inbox.

  2. Google Street View may have eavesdropped. Google may only be 15, but it's already quite familiar with driving around -- and collecting data at the same time. Google's Street View cars inadvertently skimmed data from open Wi-Fi networks, and the courts don't seem to be letting them off the hook.

  3. Street View shows that breaking up is hard to do. The same Street View cars also once famously captured a girl post-breakup, with her belongings out on the street. We explained why that couldn't be really be considered an invasion of privacy.

  4. Even "safe" sites have malware. A Google report taught us that piracy sites aren't the only ones with malware.

  5. Google hands over data to the government. Google was not successful in battling court orders to turn over data to the FBI.

  6. Your Google data may live longer than you. You can now determine what happens to your Google data post-mortem. It's part of a new legal trend referred to as "digital estate planning."

  7. Google does settle. Even though the Street View battle rages on in court, Google has already settled with many of the parties for $7 million.

  8. You can't sue to fix Google results. Ex-Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and others may wish that they could sue Google to take down embarrassing Google search results, but the federal courts aren't hearing it.

  9. Google cares about free speech. Although it may have been well-calculated PR, Google has challenged gag orders relating to the government surveillance, citing the company's First Amendment right to speak out.

  10. Cops request Google data. Law enforcement agencies make requests to Google frequently. Alas, privacy settings won't protect your data from the cops.

  11. Google wants to be transparent. Users worried about law enforcement can read all about the number of requests Google receives in their Transparency Report.

  12. No such thing as free Google lunch. Free meals in the Google cafeteria may count as taxable fringe benefits of working for the company.

  13. France hates free Google Maps. A French court fined Google 500,000 Euros for providing Google Maps for free. Sacré bleu!

  14. Google directions may mislead. A wrong turn based on Google Maps directions caused one woman to sue the company for negligence.

  15. Google caused a border dispute. International law was never a part of Google Maps' programming, and an errant border line may have been responsible for tensions between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Happy 15th Birthday Google, and may all of your searches make you feel lucky!

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