It's not going to impact me, you said at dinner with your parents, while discussing the endless deluge of leaked documents detailing the massive NSA spying program, which just netted Pulitzer prizes for both the Guardian and the Washington Post. That's the government. And now Google, which just changed its Terms of Service to clarify that they have the right to scan all of your emails. Not that not telling you has stopped them from doing so before.
This terms of service change follows last year's introduction of their latest inbox (an update on the so-called Priority Inbox), which automatically filters incoming emails into three distinct categories based on a proprietary algorithm used by Google's automated scanning bots.
Incoming and outgoing emails, as well as your entire electronic mail archive, is fair game. But nervous consumers clinging to quaint notions of "privacy" are reminded that Google is simly at war with the rogue spammers, threatening the peaceful civility of your online activity. It is imperative to Google's mission for you to recognize the manufactured difference between a Viagra bulk email and that tailored banner ad based on your late-night "Best Ramen In Bay Area" search. The change is as follows:
“Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”
The crux of the issue seems to be that it is a function that cannot be turned off, even if users are aware of it and consent to it, though consent online is something of misnomer at this point. Have you ever read any Terms of Service?
“This is not the worst thing Google does,” Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, tells the Guardian. “But like anything like this, if people are concerned about it they should be able to completely switch it off if they want to.”
Ultimately, the information gained from online searches, browsing history, and email content all contribute data for a comprehensive portrait of each user, allowing the most specific advertisements possible. Their ad revenue broke $50 billion dollars for the first time last year.
The change comes after a second major lawsuit against the $268 billion dollar company over the bulk scanning of email caches. On March 19th, the Guardian reported on a lawsuit in California over the possible violation of state and federal wiretapping laws, with the nine plaintiffs alleging the illegality of scanning university student emails.
These are by no means new revelations, however. In August of 2013, Google stated in a court filing that any of the almost 500 million Gmail users "must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing," and that the digital communications carry with them no "reasonable expections" of privacy.