Yahoo! Mail Under Wiretapping Fire

Wendy Davis of Mediapost reported last week that Yahoo is also now being sued for scanning emails to target ads to their users.

This comes on the heels of Gmail – also managing a class action suit in progress for essentially the same issue. Contributor Ben Isaacson recently discussed the latest on that case (see Despite What You May Have Heard Perhaps Gmail Users Do Have A Reasonable Expectation of Privacy).

In the Gmail case, a number of folks are scratching their heads around this being a “new” issues. Many have noted that Gmail has been around for many years, and seemingly “everyone” was aware of their practices of scanning email content to target ads to users.

I guess that despite what was “common knowledge” at anyone time, we should look at how Gmail and Yahoo! are making current users aware of their content scanning practices.

First, I checked out the Yahoo Mail privacy policy:

And from that relevant snippet, went on and followed the FAQ link:


To my eye, Yahoo! has done a much better job of clear language and explanation on this.  The judge in the Google case ruled that the Google TOS wasn’t even remotely clear enough, even with a recent update:


So, well-worded disclosures aside – noting that they are “available” in a terms or privacy link – what more could/should a provider do to make it clear to users what is going on?

Notice and disclosure aside, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) wiretapping element here is really interesting.  Even if ISPs can get notice/disclosure to their users right, what about non-users sending mail to those users?  Is it simply a matter of not storing profiles of non-members based on the content?

Both of these cases should be very interesting to watch.

photo by: gaku.

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