Gmail Privacy Hullabaloo Overblown
Over at The Verge, Nilay Patel does a nice job of debunking the recent controversy over whether Gmail users can have an expectation of privacy. Fueled by the revelations of governmental spying programs, media sites smell blood, but have largely misinterpreted a statement in Google’s motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit alleging that Gmail violates wiretapping laws. As Patel says — and goes on to show — “there’s just nothing here.”
I don't agree with Patel. Once Google has made the legal argument that nobody but Gmail users has any expectation of privacy from Google, and that Gmail users get exactly the privacy Google gives them in their ToS, I expect scope creep.
How is Google any different from any other email service provider in this respect? When you send email to someone who uses a service (iCloud, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.) with whom you have no legal relationship, certain assumptions have to come into play with regard to your - as opposed to your recipient's - privacy expectations.
As Google says: "As numerous courts have held, the automated processing of email is so widely understood and accepted that the act of sending an email constitutes implied consent to automated processing as a matter of law."
Because Google is obsessed with collecting and analyzing information. Their goal is "to orgranize the world's information". Microsoft and Apple, for example, are much less interested in user content.
Also because Google mines user data for advertising relevance, so they have a financial incentive to analyze all the email they can get their servers on. Most email services have no current financial incentive to analyze customer email, and I don't expect this to change.
Microsoft and Apple aren't as interested in user content from the perspective of selling ads, but they are absolutely receiving, analysing (for spam, if nothing else), and storing email content.
I also note that Yahoo Mail is analyzing email content for contextualizing ads.
"When you use the new Yahoo! Mail our automated systems scan and analyze all incoming and outgoing communications content sent and received from your account (such as Mail and Messenger content including instant messages and SMS messages) to detect, among other things, certain words and phrases (we call them "keywords") within these communications. This might result in ads being shown to you in Mail for products and services that are related to those keywords."
Certainly Google can process email by automatically reading the address portion, even opening the 'envelope' to lay out the message to be read by the intended recipient. But, an 'automatic process' that makes copies & catalogs the content for its own use is too much when talking about a non-contractual sender. Maybe Google users like giving Google everything at all times to get free services, but many do not. Their defense consists of equating 'complaints' with 'consent'. 'Complaining means you know what we're doing, therefore you're consenting.'