The NYTimes has revealed a secret surveillance program, one that was suspected by many experts but not known by the average person: Your emails are being monitored.

Not by the government (Who of course probably is snooping also) but by Google.

In an article discussing a company offering free internet telephone service in exchange for monitoring conversations so they can target you with ads, the NYTimes mentions:

Companies like Google scan their e-mail users’ in-boxes to deliver ads related to those messages. Will people be as willing to let a company listen in on their phone conversations to do the same?

Oh, great.

The Great Google is snooping on me.

Now, my blog has Adsense, which tell you the truth doesn’t pay zilch. and sometimes the computer program scans your essays and links and you get hilarious matches.

So if I post about article that mentions the firey and combustible Michelle Malkin, the next day Google Ads will show ads for fire extinguishers.

Fair enough. Blogs are, after all, public.

But I wasn’t aware that Google was scanning my emails.

The privacy issues are big, since they monitor not only what you send, but what is sent to you…and unlike the Feds, they don’t have the ACLU and Nancy Pelosi breathing down their necks.

From the Electronic Privacy Information Center:

a. Non-Subscribers Do Not Consent to “Content Extraction….. non-subscribers who are e-mailing a Gmail user have not consented, and indeed may not even be aware that their communications are being analyzed or that a profile may being compiled on him or her. (See 2.3 “Will Google Build Profiles of Subscribers and/or Non-subscribers?“)

b. Unlimited Data Retention. While the prospect of never having to delete or file an e-mail is an attractive feature for space-hungry users, the implications of indefinite storage of e-mail communications presents several serious implications….Additionally, communications stored for more than 180 days are exposed to lower protections from law enforcement access; with Gmail, many such e-mails could be made easily available to police.

c. Profiling Across Google Product Line. Google uses cookies to track users … Gmail also uses cookies. Google’s personal information-rich social networking service, Orkut, does as well. Although Google said that it does not cross-reference the cookies, nothing is stopping them from doing so at any time… Google retains a powerful ability to create incredibly detailed profiles on users, whether or not they do so today…. (See also 2.3 “Will Google Build Profiles of Subscribers and/or Non-subscribers?“) Additionally, Google has extremely long cookie expiration dates that preserve the cookie until the year 2038 (see 1.5 What other things has Google been doing that might affect my privacy?)

So there you have it.

There is some advantages of government spying on email to stop terrorism. Indeed, it was email that stopped money laundering for a local terrorist group here in the Philippines.

But this needs to be done under court order to restrict government from making a database on you, something that was done in the past against those protesting Viet Nam in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

But there are few exposes on the danger of spying in the name of profit…a practice that, like telemarketing, is annoying than sinister.

But the potential civil rights danger is big: It was Yahoo spying on email that resulted in the jailing of a Chinese reporter for disclosing “state secrets” to a NY civil rights group. The state secret?

He had e-mailed personal notes from a staff meeting about overseas Chinese returning for the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen

And of course the ability of China to block internet sites and limit search engine searches is also well documented.

And China has helped the murderous dictator of Zimbabwe to do the same, and has helped them with programs to monitor emails, to try to stop negative news from leaking from that country…already my friends hesitate to write critical information about the state of rural hunger etc. in the mail, and now their emails will also be monitored for dangerous information…Right now, much of the danger is only to activists and to reporters…but every missionary  and ex missionary and teacher and doctor and college graduate and teenager who can use the internet is a potential witness against human rights abuse…

Big Brother is watching you, and your letters, and your blog, and your emails.

But privacy issues are not limited to emails: major internet companies are helping places like China to firewall internet sites that they consider dangerous. Internet censorship is widespread.  Essentially there is a firewall that limits sites that can be accessed by everyone in that country. 

Usually these sites are religious or pornographic, and the firewall also uses certain keywords. (Parents often use such firewalls to keep pornography from their children. But I found that too many firewalls limit access to medical sites so had to stop using one).

But the same techniques used to censor pornography will censor political opinions, and this type of censorship is spreading.

So we have nothing to worry about, do we?

Uh oh: The Great Firewall of China has blocked BloggerNews.Net…

Must have been that Paris Hilton story

Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and fishmarket, and she writes on Zimbabwe at Makaipa BLog 
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