Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, most will leap to the conclusion that I’m writing about the ongoing government snooping that seems to permeate the internet these days. Unfortunately, another of the tech industry’s dirty little secrets is being dragged out into the light of day, and it’s something you’ve probably known all along but didn’t want to acknowledge: Your email is not private. Microsoft recently underlined and highlighted this fact by releasing details on an investigation into an ex-employee’s attempt to sell confidential information. The individual in question was identify primarily through the contents of his Hotmail account, which Microsoft openly admits to reading. While this may seem to be a blatant and gross invasion of privacy (it is), it’s also well within Microsoft’s rights as outlined in the Terms of Service every single customer agrees to when creating and using the free webmail account.
What this means for you:
Before you think this is a Microsoft bashing party, Google and Yahoo have the same sort of Terms of Service, as does just about any other email provider out there. They can read your email any time they want to, and they don’t have to get a search warrant like law enforcement supposedly has to do. They own the equipment, software and data services that deliver your email, and they assert openly in the Terms of Service in one way or another that your email is not yours to keep private. You might also want to review your employer’s information security policy: it’s highly likely that they advise you that any email transmitted through their servers is company property, and is subject to review at any time. This is not something new – policies like this have been around since email first started being used in large organizations that could afford lawyers.
The only way to keep email truly private is to use end-to-end encryption, a process that most people find daunting to establish, and inconvenient to use. Until there is a radical change in how we communicate on the internet, the only way to truly keep things away from prying eyes is to not put them on the internet in the first place.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net