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Yahoo! To Scan Users Emails, IMs etc. For Targeted Advertising

By Ricky on July 9th, 2011 

Yahoo! has updated its Additional Terms and Conditions and now they have got the right to scan user communications without any restrictions.

The change in the ATOS, noticed by Which?, is under Section c of Acceptance of Terms of Yahoo!’s Additional Terms of Services. This is what it says:

Please note that your Yahoo! Messenger account is tied to your Yahoo! Mail account. Therefore, your use of Yahoo! Messenger and all Yahoo! Messenger services will be subject to the TOS and laws applicable to the Applicable Yahoo! Company in Section 10. By using the Services, you consent to allow Yahoo!’s automated systems to scan and analyze all incoming and outgoing communications content sent and received from your account (such as Mail and Messenger content including instant messages and SMS messages) including those stored in your account to, without limitation, provide personally relevant product features and content, to match and serve targeted advertising and for spam and malware detection and abuse protection. Unless expressly stated otherwise, you will not be allowed to opt out of this feature. If you consent to this ATOS and communicate with non-Yahoo! users using the Services, you are responsible for notifying those users about this feature.

This updated ATOS means basically two things:

1. Yahoo! can scan all your messages

From now on Yahoo!’s computers can scan every piece of communication you make though their service. This includes emails, IMs and SMSs. (Yahoo! allows users to send and receive SMS to others in ten countries.)

So basically, by using Yahoo!’s services you not only give them the right to spy on you, but also on your friends - even if they are using a totally different service and have never used Yahoo!.

2. Yahoo! users are responsible for notifying others

We just mentioned above that Yahoo! will scan messages – emails, SMSs etc. – that non-Yahoo! users send to Yahoo! users. This opens the question as to how Yahoo! can snoop in on someone’s messages when they have nothing to do with Yahoo!.

Well, Yahoo! leaves that to the Yahoo! user. According to the ATOS, it is the responsibility of the Yahoo! user to warn his contacts that Yahoo! will scan their messages.

Yahoo! justifies this by saying that this will bring better advertisements to the users, reduce spam, remove malware and prevent abuse. A spokesman for Yahoo! also told Which? that Yahoo!’s competitors already do this.

Does Gmail and Hotmail Scan user emails?

Gmail does scan user emails. However it is not clear if Hotmail too does it. This is the relevant paragraph from Gmail’s FAQ on Security and Privacy:

Is Gmail reading my mails?

No, but automatic scanning and filtering technology is at the heart of Gmail. Gmail scans and processes all messages using fully automated systems in order to do useful and innovative stuff like filter spam, detect viruses and malware, show relevant ads, and develop and deliver new features across your Google experience. Priority Inbox, spell checking, forwarding, auto-responding, automatic saving and sorting, and converting URLs to clickable links are just a few of the many features that use this kind of automatic processing.

I am unable to find any thing which says Hotmail too does it and I do not use Hotmail. So, I cannot say if Hotmail does as well. But according to Google, Hotmail does it as well.

All major email services, including Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail, automatically scan email content for the benefit of users.

Is this a breach of the sender’s privacy?

As the sender never agreed to the Terms and Conditions if he/she is from a different service, a question naturally arises - “Is this not a breach of the privacy of the sender?”

Well, as long as the email service does not share the contents with others, there should be no violation of the sender’s privacy. When the sender sends an email, he naturally gives the recipient the permission to see the email.

With the targeted advertising through email scanning, it is only the recipient who will see the targeted ad. The scanning is done automatically without any human intervention. So, since the recipient already has the right to see the email, him/her seeing ad contents based on the email should not violate the privacy of the sender.

(Note: I am not a lawyer and the above words are my opinion not legal advice.)

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Yahoo! To Scan Users Emails, IMs etc. For Targeted Advertising was originally published on on July 9, 2011 - 4:10 am (Indian Standard Time)