Search Engines Scan Your Email

July 18, 2018

Search Engines are Still Scanning Your Email

Despite the revised practices that were adopted as a result of the scanning emails scandal that happened last year, search engines are still doing it – just through third parties. This month the Wall Street Journal released an article detailing how search engines are still sharing its users’ data through third-party apps that basically do exactly what they were doing for the past decade. The article shares that third-party applications have technically gained users’ permission to scan their email, which even includes actual employees putting eyes on their inboxes. This is the exact same type of behavior that search engines admitted to doing for years before it allegedly ceased the practice.

The main difference between search engines scanning emails and third parties looking at your inbox is that allegedly you’ve consented to it. Somewhere along the way, whether when you signed up for the third-party app, or agreed to share data, you’ve consented to allowing apps to scan email in your inbox. Various search engines require these third-party providers to be transparent about what data they’re collecting and how they’ll use it, even though you’ve given consent. However, what the WSJ found is that there can be “fourth parties” that also have access to your inbox.

For example, the permission you’ve granted to a third party that allows a search engine to scan email may work in conjunction with another third party that you’ve never heard of. The original consent is transferred to that third party, which may or may not have been mentioned in whatever you agreed to when you signed up for the service. The WSJ found that the consent people granted when signing up for these third-party apps was more straightforward than a typical terms of service agreement, however, they may not have known they would be allowing multiple third parties access to their information.

While there’s no evidence to suggest that these third parties have abused any user data or that there has been a breach, it’s just another example of how a search engine scanning emails can be a slippery slope. Even though the company has done away with the practice of scanning email for ad targeting, search engines still scan email to filter spam, prevent malware, and clearly more. The only way to keep a search engine from scanning emails is to trust your information with a company that believes in privacy like Private email companies won’t copy, scan, or sell a single word of your email content.

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