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Google Apps Email Inbox Controversy

Gmail logoGoogle says users should have no “expectation of privacy”. This issue came up when Gmail users found out that Google was scanning their emails for advertisement ideas. For example, if you send an email to Email Privacyyour friend about the newest smartphone chances are you’ll be seeing advertisements pop up for smartphones. But how can Google do this? Don’t we have a right to privacy? No, not when it comes to your Gmail.

**A little tip to live by: Don’t put or do anything online that you wouldn’t want someone to find out about.

Google Scans your Email for Advertisement Suggestions

Anyone with a Gmail or Google Apps account is probably getting annoyed with the advertisements they are seeing. Google scans anyone who sends or receives a message from Gmail or Google Apps to personalize advertisements to the user. So, if you’ve been “click happy” when it comes to ads you’ve probably got an idea as to why they knew you’d like that ad.

Hosting other Email Domains on Gmail

Gmail allows you to use any email address (i.e. those associated with your own domain name or business) with their popular email hosting platform. However, the emails sent through the Google platform are not safe either. Google’s prying eyes will be scanning those emails as well to find the perfect advertisements to place on your Internet experience.

Just How Secure Is Your Personal Data With Google Apps Email?

In a bug that sprung up during the switchover of Brown University’s email accounts from self-hosted (email accounts hosted at the school) to Google-hosted (hosted by Google Apps), students all of a sudden had access to each others’ email inboxes. According to reports, on 9/11/09, a couple Brown students notified their CIS (Computing and Information Services) department that they were receiving emails belonging to other students. The next day, Brown’s CIS department sent out an email to the 200 students whose mailboxes were being transitioned to the new Google Apps email system, asking them whether they were seeing emails in the inboxes that did not belong to them. Some were, and some could even see the entire inbox of other students. Brown contacted Google to resolve the issue. It reportedly took Google 3 – 5 days to resolve the problem and ultimately, close the affected accounts.

Emails Contain Highly Sensitive Data

Your email inbox typically contains some of your most personal and sensitive data. So it’s important that you place your email hosting in the hands of someone you trust. To this day, we’ve been using Rackspace’s dedicated email hosting service, without running into any privacy issues. It may cost a bit more than Google apps, but in return we also get stellar technical and phone support, and a dedicated IP reputation and management team, that helps ensure our emails get to their destination.

Two-Factor Authentication

Gmail accounts can become much more secure by turning on two-factor authentication, which we highly recommend. Two-factor authentication is also known as multi-factor authentication. It is an added form of security that requires more than your account password for you to gain access in your account. So when you log into your Gmail account you will type in your password, then another login will appear which you’ll have to enter a code that expires within a given time frame. Typically the code is about 6 digits and changes every 30 seconds. The code can be sent to you via text or you can download an authenticator app.

Who Is Your Email Provider?

We’re always in search of the newest and best email hosting providers out there. We’re curious as to who you use, why, how long have you been with them, what’s your experience so far and would you recommend them to other PIP community readers?

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6 responses to “Google Apps Email Inbox Controversy”

  1. Something to really think about regarding email and the whole issue of privacy is the actual policies of the providers themselves. I would strongly encourage you to actually go into your account and read these privacy policies and also the terms and conditions. I promise you they will be very enlightening.

    Were you aware that if you discuss the details of a patent filing over your email (and this is also true with most social networks), they could have a legal claim to that patent? The same with an important project or deal. If you are careless enough to reveal the details, then your email provider may actually have a legal claim to those products, patents, deals, etc…

    To the best of my knowledge this has never been tested in court. I am convinced that it will happen at some point. There will be a sharp kid or other techie glancing at all the emails sent over their server and maybe they happen to read a few at random. Maybe they happen to come across one which talks about a really cool idea for a new product or something that really captures their interest?

    Maybe they take this idea and run with it. Possibly they even follow through and bring a product to market based on the ideas in that email…your ideas! They may even turn into a direct competitor for you and your business. Imagine this. It is entirely possible. Given the current privacy and terms of use policies for many of these providers, it is also quite likely that they could stand up to a legal challenge. This is truly frightening.

    The scariest part of all this to me is just how very few people even realize that all of this is possible. I think most people just assume that there email is secure and there will not be any problems. For the most part, I do not think anyone is trolling around and just getting their kicks by reading a number of random emails. But then again, you really never know.

    There are several ways to combat this. The first is very simple. Do not send anything through email which is truly sensitive. In fact, do not send anything in email that you would not like to have posted all over the internet and exposed to general public scrutiny.

    The second way to avoid any of these possible outcomes is to only use a secure network for your email. There are a number of such services out there today. But you will have to look hard for them. Then, make sure that these networks are truly secure. Read all of the privacy and terms of use policies. Expect to pay for these services, since they have had to invest a lot of money in securing and maintaining their network. An easy way of accomplishing this may be to have your own email through a private hosting account. The author suggests using RackSpace hosting for this, which does come highly recommended.

  2. Reading this article really got me thinking about privacy. How private is the internet in general and email specifically? According this article, it is not very private at all. I certainly can believe that a university attempting to switch over to Google mail actually had some students that were able to access other accounts and inboxes.

    This fact does not surprise me in the least. Since I have been using the internet, this is a common theme. There have always been privacy issues with email. The basic problem is that this is not a very secure medium, yet people just sort of assume it is. Most people think that when they send an email it goes right from their computer to the email of the intended recipient. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    The email message actually is handled, coded, sorted and routed by whatever server or email client the provider chooses to use. In the case of Google mail, it is likely some Google proprietary server or client. The next problem is that these are free accounts. To ensure that your email is kept completely confidential would require a very secure network.

    To have a secure network would require some heavy duty (and expensive) equipment. To be fair, if I were a business offering a free email account and service, I would not even think about offering it as a secure medium. Why would I want to spend tens of thousands of dollars (maybe even hundreds of thousands) to upgrade all of my equipment and create a secure network? After all, this is something that I am just giving away for free.

    Actually, the more I think about this, the more I realize that the normal scenario is probably a good deal for most people. After all, you get a free email box out of it. Is it really that big a deal to you that every once in a while something might get misdirected and your email for a friend or boyfriend goes to someone else? I really think that most people are just fine with the status quo.

    The author contends that your email contains some of your most sensitive data. While this may be true, is is really that big a deal if some evil person sees your email that you intended only for the eyes of Aunt Sally? Really? Ok, so you have some personal things that are communicated through email. But does this really mean that you need to think about actually paying for an email account that you know will be secure?

    I think that it really depends on how you use email. If it is mainly used for personal communications, then you can get away with a free account. On the other hand, if you are conducting serious business (and discussing big deals) through email, then I think it is more prudent to consider a secure account. Do not discuss any specific projects or big deals through email.

  3. Nothing is really secure/private on the internet. We are always looking for the best service that will provide us with the most security/privacy, but still someone controls those services. And the information that we recieve or send has to go through a third party before it reaches its destination. So is no surprise that gmail isn't as private as it says it is.

  4. Nothing is really secure/private on the Internet. We are always looking for the best service that will provide us with the most security/privacy, but still someone controls those services. And the information that we receive or send has to go through a third party before it reaches its destination. So is no surprise that Gmail isn't as private as it says it is.

  5. Gmail, and any Google or Facebook product for that matter, enjoy little to no privacy if someone really wants to get at your data. Your better off registering a domain name for $10/ year, a hosting account for $5/ month, and setting up your own email address that you have full control over.

  6. I wouldn’t trust Google as far as I could throw them when it comes to privacy. But then again, that’s how they’re making the big $$ now (cough, tracking cookies, cough).

    Interestingly, I recently got an invite to tell my “Adsense” (their Publisher online revenue program – ie. make money with ads on your site) story in Washington D.C., and they mentioned “pending litigation” being considered by Congress that’s worrying them. Sure, I’ll lobby for you Google. Smart, if they can get an army of people up there. I’m surprised they’re not springing for hotel costs, given how important this is to them…

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