(CBS News) WASHINGTON - Brent Scott said his email is being spied upon, but the culprit isn't the government -- it's the internet search giant Google. Scott is part of a nationwide lawsuit that charges Google with the "unlawful interception" of his personal emails.
"I just started thinking about the personal emails ... I guess not what they can use them for, but what they read, which was strictly for the receiver's eyes only. So my heart sunk," Scott said.
For years, Google's computers have scanned the content of millions of Gmails -- Google's popular email service -- in order to figure out what ads the users might respond to. Many users don't realize they've given Google permission to eavesdrop in the agreement that opens their account.
But that means Google is monitoring the emails of almost 50 million Gmail users in America. It's also recording everything you type on the Google search engine and, if you own a smartphone, Google is probably recording where you are. Scott Cleland wrote a book critical of Google's unprecedented power.
"Which agency has more personal information about Americans, the NSA or Google?" said Cleland. "Google, without a question."
Cleland said the comparison is "not even close."
"The National Security Agency is focused by law, outside of the U.S. If an American knew that literally someone knew every place they went, everybody they were talking to, where, when, and however, they would freak out."
Google is not unique in the quest for personal information. Facebook has been accused in several lawsuits after users complained Facebook was tracking them everywhere else they visited on the internet. The computers at Amazon.com record not just everything you purchase, but everything you shop for -- to analyze what you might want next.
Google would not comment on the lawsuit Brent Scott has joined but said in a statement that Gmails are only tracked by computer software.
No one is accusing Google of using its massive data files against anyone except to send them ads. But where it comes to the collection of personal and often intimate information, private industry is miles ahead of the government, and private industry doesn't need a warrant.