Google’s Updated Terms Of Service Explicitly State That Your Emails Are Being Scanned

April 15, 2014 - Written By Peter Holden

For many of us who use Gmail on a daily basis, the fact that Google’s automated systems scan our emails for advertising purposes is something we’ve come to accept in return for the services that Google provides ‘free-of-charge’. Others are far more concerned with their rights to privacy in their internet lives, as evidenced by some of the lawsuits that Google are facing. One such lawsuit is the group of students suing Google for data-mining their Gmail accounts, and another is the  lawsuit alleging that Google improperly scanned  the content of customers emails in order to place ads which is being heard by the U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh (well-known from the Apple v Samsung court cases). In response to the various lawsuits, Google has updated its Terms of Service agreement to specifically state that it uses information scanned from customers emails to provide users with search results and advertisements that tailored to their specific likes and dislikes.

The updated document includes a sentence in its Your Content in our Services section, which now reads “When you upload, or otherwise submit, store, send or receive content to or through our services you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. “, making it clear that regardless of how your content reaches Google, it will be scanned.

Google have also inserted the following paragraph “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.” Again, that’s pretty transparent. Whether or not it’s enough to get Google off the hook is anyone’s guess, with one of the lawsuits being filed by non-Gmail users who have complained that because they sent emails to people with Gmail  addresses, their content was scanned without their permission. It’s not immediately obvious how Google will solve that particular conundrum.

This is something that has never really bothered me, I don’t have much to hide or worry about except for my love of 80’s pop (Roxette, Huey Lewis and the News and Wang Chung being my not-so-secret guilty pleasures), and I would dare say that most of us that use Google’s services feel the same way. It would be easy to break out the tin-hats and rebel against the evil Google, but we must also be mindful of the fact that Google aren’t the only ones scanning emails, remember Microsoft also scan their Outlook email service, albeit allegedly with different purposes in mind, one of which is scanning the Hotmail account of an alleged leaker. It’s really a case of who you trust the most to look after your interests.

Remember when the internet first became a thing? An exciting new way of searching, publishing, sharing and even dating without having to put yourself fully in the spotlight. A way of being able to do things (that you perhaps shouldn’t) and remain totally anonymous. Well, those days are long gone. Does it worry you that your emails are scanned by automated systems? Is it something that would persuade you to change email providers? Let us know in the comments or via our Google Plus page.