Business Law

Gmail faces unfair competition allegations

The Google e-mail service, Gmail, is facing allegations from Russian authorities of breaching competition legislation.

In a report by Russian Business Consulting, a partner newspaper of the German commercial newspaper Handelsblatt, Russian authorities have begun investigating the Google e-mail service, Gmail, for alleged competition infringements. The investigations were sparked by user complaints about their conversations being analysed. Google is alleged to have used this analysis to place targeted advertising, giving the Google e-mail service a considerable competitive advantage over major competitors such as Yandex, Rambler and Mail.ru.

google, GMail

©-Erwin-Wodicka-Fotolia

Russian Member of Parliament, Ilya Kostunov, indicated in an interview with the Russian magazine Izvestia, that should the allegations be true, then the analysis of private data for marketing purposes would not just be a breach of competition law, but could also give rise to criminal sanctions on privacy grounds under art 138 Russian Federation Criminal Code (privacy of correspondence). If criminal proceedings were brought, Gmail would be unable to rely on a defence that its licence and user agreements allow the intrusion in the privacy of its users.

Google Russia has reacted calmly to the accusations and admitted analysing e-mail exchanges. According to Google, Gmail uses automatic algorithms to analyse personal data and no human involvement is required.

The consequences of Gmail’s actions will become clear once the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service’s investigations are complete.

Christian Solmecke is a partner at the law firm WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE. He is the author of numerous legal publications in the area of internet and IT law. He is also an associate lecturer for social media law at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.

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