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Op-Ed: Google vs. privacy? New Gmail terms say ‘we analyze your emails’

By Paul Wallis     Apr 17, 2014 in Internet
Sydney - Google claimed in a recent court hearing that a case against the company shouldn’t be heard because their terms of use gave implied consent to scanning of emails. The court didn’t agree. Now Google’s put it in writing.
The Washington Post via Sydney Morning Herald:
"Our automated systems analyse your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customised search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored."
The two people left on Earth who don’t know how vulnerable emails are may be scandalized, but the rest of the world is likely to have another question or several:
What subject matter, specifically, gets scanned?
What if someone with a few seconds on their mind decides to go rummaging around in the scan results?
Google may be bound by its privacy policy, others may not feel that way if they can access information like that. Gmail isn’t supposed to be the NSA’s PRISM under another name.
While the real bad guys may not be so naïve as to put any damaging stuff under their real IDs into an email, everyone else may have issues with the risk of availability of such information to third parties.
This is tricky. Google does have at least a few toes to stand on, if not a whole leg, in this area. Scanning emails which may contain serious malware is one of them. There’s also the little matter that since about 1999, US legislation has been in force which requires software to be readable, so “privacy” is really in the mind of the beholder.
Foreign software may not be so cooperative, but most of the world uses US software, and uses Google. Meaning that any kind of subversion of Gmail could lead to a lot more than irritating ads about things you talk about.
Nor is Google the only one on the block with this adorable ability. Facebook and others seem to have uncanny, if bizarre abilities to provide mysteriously topical ads, too.
That’s just annoying. Other subjects discussed between people are not supposed to be common knowledge for anyone able to access them.
If a phone company said “Yeah, we’re monitoring your phone calls because we can and because we use them for our ads,” you’d get the biggest class action in history.
How is an internet email provider different?
More to the point, why is an email provider different?
The Surveillance Society/ Paranoia R Us aren’t exactly flavor of the month with the public. Trust is lacking, with good reason. Google may or may not be aware that being a giant corporation isn’t a recipe for instant trust, either. Corporate behavior is less than reassuring, and giving any corporation the ability to browse your emails isn’t likely to be high on anyone’s list of priorities any time soon.
Any software which can search can extract any kind of information. It’s just not good enough to say that “it’s for better ads.”
What if people are targeted or made vulnerable, just for using Gmail?
Who’s liable, if that information is used by third parties and causes damage to Gmail users?
Is Google immune? Do Gmail Terms of Service outweigh laws?
This practice seems to have been going on for years, according to both urban myth and many people’s observations of patterns of ads they see.
Google and everyone else need to take a long hard look at the ramifications of any possible risk to the public.
Try putting a specific subject in your email, and see how many ads relate to that word. That’s the extent of the actual applications of this scanning.
Now consider every email you’ve ever sent about a subject that you’d wish was never seen by anyone. That’s the extent of the possible problems.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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