Google just released a new terms of service update in which the company was forced to clarify an intentionally vague clause about its email monitoring policy, and confirmed it scans all of users’ incoming and outgoing email.
“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,” the service update reads. “This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”
The new language specifically states that Google’s automated software scans the complete content of all messages sent to or from all Google email accounts — a practice the company was forced to divulge after being sued by schools for secretly monitoring students’ communications.
“We want our policies to be simple and easy for users to understand,” a Google spokeswoman said about the updated terms. “These changes will give people even greater clarity and are based on feedback we’ve received over the last few months.”
The scanning is done in part to protect Gmail users from spam or malware, which many other email providers do as well. The other part however is to collect and analyze bulk user data in order to fuel Google’s annual $50-billion targeted advertising profits.
Mining Gmail accounts for user data is just one among the handful of tactics employed by Google to acquire and use private user information gleaned from profiles, emails, search results, YouTube views, Maps directions, etc. to more effectively target ads based on the free information Internet users give out daily from their activity online.
Another recent terms of service update lets Google track your identity and activity across every individual Google-smartphone app, and another program recently uncovered reveals Google has developed a method for tracking users all the way to physical stores, and matching up the ads they view to the purchases they make offline.
Google’s email scanning is not limited to the popular free Gmail client, but also business and education services and accounts, which include options to remove all ads.
At present Google does not allow the account scanning to be turned off, which is the basis for the lawsuit filed against the Silicon Valley giant in California. The suit alleges Google is in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA safeguards the privacy of students’ educational records.
According to Open Rights Group Executive Director Jim Killock, email scanning isn’t even the worst of the practices Google engages in, as part of its consideration that users have no “reasonable expectation” of privacy.
“The really dangerous things that Google is doing are things like the information held in Analytics, cookies in advertising and the profiling that it is able to do on individual accounts,” Killock said in a Guardian report referencing the recently unveiled targeted advertising initiatives.