NOYB targets Google over ‘spam emails’ sent to Gmail users

25 Aug 2022

Image: © PixieMe/

The privacy advocacy group claims Google is sending messages to Gmail users that look like normal emails, but are adverts that the users never consented to receiving. 

Digital rights group NOYB has filed a complaint against Google, claiming that the tech giant uses its email platform to send unsolicited advert emails to users without valid consent.

The group established by privacy advocate Max Schrems filed the complaint with France’s data protection authority, CNIL.

NOYB claims Google is sending messages to Gmail users that look like normal emails, but are adverts that the users never consented to receiving.

Gmail filters most external spam messages in a separate spam folder for its users. But NOYB said the unsolicited advertising messages from Google are sent directly to the user’s inbox.

The privacy advocacy group said this gives the impression that the user subscribed to these emails or services, even if no consent was given.

“The complainants were not asked to consent to these advertising emails being sent to them when they signed up for Gmail or even afterwards,” NOYB said in its complaint.

The EU Court of Justice previously confirmed that any emails for the purpose of direct marketing in a user’s inbox are subject to the rule of consent.

“The Court of Justice was pretty clear on the matter: if it looks like an email, smells like an email, then it is an email,” NOYB legal trainee Eliška Andrš said. “It seems that Google ignores this and continues sending spam to their own users.”

As Google has its European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission is the lead supervisor for the company under GDPR.

However, since NOYB’s complaint is based on the European ePrivacy Directive and not GDPR, the French data authority could decide to fine Google without the need to cooperate with other data protection authorities.

CNIL already has a record of issuing fines to tech companies that breach ePrivacy rules, which govern the privacy of communications, cookies and user tracking.

At the end of 2021, the French regulator fined Google €150m for not making it easy for users to refuse tracking cookies. In 2020, it fined Google €100m and Amazon €35m for dropping tracking cookies without consent.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has been adding more of these email-like ads in its Outlook service for mobiles in recent months, The Verge reports.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic