Google’s updated Terms of Service has made it clear that files and messages stored, sent and received through Gmail, Google Drive and its other services could be used by Google and its partners for a variety of purposes.
The previous ToS had just mentioned that content it could use “upload, or otherwise submit content to [Google’s] Services”. This wording has become more specific, encompassing anything users “upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through [Google’s] Services”.
Google states the following in its updated ToS:
When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.
It also added the following paragraph regarding email:
Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.
Of course, Google’s business model is around highly targeted ads, so its intent is more to find particular trends and keywords rather than explicitly reading emails or posting them publicly. In its privacy statement, Google notes, “We may share aggregated, non-personally identifiable information publicly and with our partners – like publishers, advertisers or connected sites.”
Also, facing a lawsuit from privacy advocates last year, Google said, “all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing.” Of course, it’s difficult to draw a fine line between what’s reasonable “automated processing” and an invasion of privacy.
Other email providers are becoming more aware of the blowback from accessing user accounts. Microsoft recently introduced a policy around its email service, Hotmail, that would require Microsoft to present evidence to an outside attorney before looking in users’ accounts. This was in response to an incident where Microsoft accessed a user account to find the source of a code leak.
While there are many that are likely outraged over Google updated ToS, Google contends that it is being more open with how it is operating, allowing users to make more informed decisions on where they place their data and their trust. This will provide opportunities for email and cloud providers to compete on privacy policies in addition to other features.