Our editor asks: where do your privacy boundaries lie?
Google’s new terms and conditions make it clear that the company is scanning our emails – and that it believes it is well within its right to do so.
Google’s amended terms state: “Our automated systems analyse your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customised search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection.
“This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”
The news is not trending on Twitter.
It has not made the main homepages of most major UK news outlets.
And I’m not surprised.
I’m not surprised that a large corporate now thinks it is acceptable to read our private correspondence, and that it is audacious enough to tell us it is doing so.
I’m not surprised that this new intrusion into our privacy is being presented almost as an amiable transparency, as if Google is just being really, really fair and just in telling us it reads our emails – as we probably all suspected anyway.
(Google spokesperson Matt Kallman said the new Ts&Cs amendments “will give people even greater clarity ” about how it scans our emails.)
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We are living in a society where we all expect to be spied on to some degree – by our governments, by those who supply us with almost any type of digital service, and large corporates generally.
We consent to sharing our personal information in return for free and low-cost services.
And don’t get me wrong: the amount of data collected on consumers and businesses does irrefutably lead to more tailored services (such as customised search and adverts, in Google’s case); to more targeted marketing; to greater insights into behaviour through big data analysis.
But we need to stop and think for a moment. We are completely unfazed by the admission from one of the world’s most powerful organisations that it is reading our private correspondence.
And we know that most, if not all, of our digital communications are accessible to governments – Edward Snowden and Wikileaks brought that to light.
Where do our boundaries lie? Have we relinquished the idea of privacy altogether?
Would we be happy, say, for our phone-calls to also be digitally listened-in to by organisations? The voice recognition powers of Siri and its kin make it entirely plausible that this is happening already.
And we learnt last month from further Edward Snowden leaks that the US government reportedly built a system capable of recording every single phonecall made in a month in an unnamed country.
Are we okay with this?
Each individual in this society must decide where their personal boundaries lie. But collectively, we remember to at least question new infringements into rights and privacies we previously deemed sacred.
When we are no longer shocked by infringements into our privacy that just a couple of years ago would have shocked us deeply, it is worth taking a moment to ask if these changes are definitely what we signed up for.