Questions regarding e-mails

My question is twofold.

  1. Are e-mails mined for information by social media companies/search engines. I know there is a nominal privacy but Google, Microsoft and other companies store/warehouse huge databases of emails. How private is private?
  2. What is done with e-mails when they are no longer used e.g… in case of death or closing/non-retrievable accounts.?
    I look forward to your feedback

With Google you can be assured that any information they have about you will be used by them for optimising the ads you get to see. They’re actually frank about that and offer a limited opt-out possibility.

  1. The answer depends entirely on your email provider. As mentioned, Google mines emails for information about you. On the other extreme, if you run your own email server, you can be sure that no information is being mined.

  2. Again, the answer depends on the provider. Google has a tool called Inactive Account Manager which can be set up to automatically delete your email after a period of inactivity.

… At your end. Every email you send to somebody with a gmail address is subject to Google’s mining at *their *end.

I’m not picking on Google specifically here. Pretty much all the free email operators have to pay for it somehow. “If you’re not paying full price for it, you’re the product, not the customer.” is a good rule to live by in the 21st Century.

True. Even if you’re not sending directly to a gmail address, if the email happens to get routed through a google server, they might take a peek at it. Although it seems less likely since in that case they don’t have a customer associated with the email whom they could get any profit from. But the only way to avoid the possibility of intermediate servers reading your email is to encrypt it.

I’m not an expert, but I would think they might be able to peek at the sender’s e-mail address and be able to link that address to an IP (or whatever other data point they use to identify me when I’m online)? That way they could use the added information from the e-mail to further customise the ads I get to see next time I browse the web.

The manager also has the useful (albeit very creepy) ability to send an email to your next of kin after three months of nonactivity, which has a link so they can access your email and files and photos.

It may seem a bit creepy at first glance, but it’s something that every online account of every nature ought to have.

Each of us is creating dozens, if not hundreds, of digital safe-deposit boxes full of gosh knows what. And most of us will die with no record of where the boxes are and no record of where the keys are either.

Just like real-life safe deposit boxes, most of them are full of moldy papers relevant only to the deceased & cheap now-unstylish jewelry. But some of what’s in some boxes is treasure. If only to the next of kin.

If nothing else eventually the various box providers are going to need a legally sanctioned way to shut them down & recycle both the storage space and the names. 100 year from now the then-current users of gmail won’t be happy that everyone’s email address has a several digit number appended since every possible name spelling was long since taken by now-dead people. People who send very little email and watch even fewer ads.

As we’d expect, xkcd has already addressed this: Facebook of the Dead

You should assume that every email, and everything you do on the internet, is not private, unless you take special precautions to ensure privacy.

ProtonMail is probably a good option if you really want email privacy.

Another anecdote.

When I type a Spanish language email in Hotmail I frequently am served Spanish language advertisements shortly after the email is sent. Same for sending Spanish language text messages via Skype.

All my account settings are set to English language preference. This has happened whether or no I am physically in a Spanish speaking country so I doubt it is just based on the IP address. My assumption is that Microsoft is taking a peek at the email/text message and then serving up ad content in a language they think I might know.

They covered the death part… it’s pretty good practice to set up a next of kin who can access your online accounts if you should perish.

As for privacy:

  1. Algorithms scan your emails to determine the best ads to serve you. It’s unlikely a human ever goes through them except maybe in debugging.

  2. An unscrupulous system administrator at an ISP or web host along the way, or at the email’s destination, can read your emails. Your intended recipient probably won’t know it’s read.

  3. It is assumed that the government scans and records all email metadata (who sent what to whom, when) and probably the message content too.

  4. You and a trusted contact can set up “Pretty Good Privacy” (PGP) encryption for your email if you’d like to make it harder, at the cost of convenience. Both parties need to use this, however, and most of the general public doesn’t know what it is and doesn’t care to.

  5. On occasion, a hack or a social engineering attack will leak emails and/or account passwords and result in massive dumps of previously private data.

  6. In general email functions as private communications and it is generally rare for it to leak out, but it can happen.