Apple, Yahoo, and Google also claim right to read user emails

“Microsoft is not unique in claiming the right to read users’ emails – Apple, Yahoo and Google all reserve that right as well,” Alex Hern reports for The Guardian.

“The broad rights email providers claim for themselves has come to light following Microsoft’s admission that it read a journalist’s Hotmail account in an attempt to track down the source of an internal leak,” Hern reports. “But most webmail services claim the right to read users’ email if they believe that such access is necessary to protect their property.”

“Google’s terms require the user to ‘acknowledge and agree that Google may access… your account information and any Content associated with that account… in a good faith belief that such access… is reasonably necessary to… protect against imminent harm to the… property… of Google,” Hern reports. “Apple ‘may, without liability to you, access… your Account information and Content… if we have a good faith belief that such access… is reasonably necessary to… protect the… property… of Apple.'”

Read more in the full article here.

Related article:
Microsoft caught reading Hotmail inbox of blogger – March 21, 2014

61 Comments

  1. My email is my email no one has a right to access it or read it for any reason. Giving these companies this right will just lead to Privacy issues. Email is private same way postal mail is a crime to open someone else’s mail.

      1. You mention the authorities. If they have enough to know who is planning it and who is the target, there are warrants. If the journalist was engaged in illegal actions, there are warrants. The authorities are not allowed (supposedly) to go on fishing expeditions.

        But this isn’t even about the authorities. It’s a private company opening your mail… no different, that I can see, from FedEx opening your packages, or a bike courier company opening your potentially VERY sensitive business communications, or a phone company listening to your calls because they “have a good faith belief that such access… is reasonably necessary”.

    1. You are using a service that they provide. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your “rights” are whatever the company providing the service tells you they are when you subscribe to that service.

      Until the law changes, this is the truth we are forced to accept,

      1. A citizen of the USA “rights” is granted certain rights as written in the Bill of Rights, and only those rights. Courts can interpret and grant certain governmental powers to the people but that is case law.

        1. Yes, you have constitutional rights protecting you from GOVERNMENT intrusion. Laws protect you from private individuals’/corporations’ violations of your property. But if you agree to let a company host your electronic communications on their servers (THEIR property), and part of the user agreement is that they can read what you host on their property.

          Again, until the laws are changed so that electronic communications are treated the same as physical ones, we’re stuck.

        2. You are NOT “granted certain rights as written in the Bill of Rights, and only those rights.”

          “IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
          The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America:

          When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to, assume…the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…

          We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

          So these rights exist because we are born as human beings, not because a government chooses to bestow them. It is the duty of a servant government to protect and preserve them, not regulate them and bestow them as it sees fit.

          Now, the amendments in the Bill of Rights enumerate SOME of those basic human rights, not all of them. The Billof Rights is derived from the logical requirements for preserving “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” among human beings. For instance, the 2nd Amendment was judged to be necessary for the defense of life and liberty. The 1st Amendment was judged necessary for the preservation of liberty and happiness.

          The Bill of Rights states specifically a few things necessary for the preservation of basic human rights, and it PROHIBITS the federal government (and the individual states as well) from removing these rights, even if a majority of citizens were to vote to do so.

          Present and past US governments, and certainly the United Nations would like us to believe otherwise, and indeed, our children are being indoctrinated otherwise. It’s time for us to wake up and educate ourselves about this issue.

          1. Zeke, the constitutional foundation for what you say – for the existence of other rights not spelled out elsewhere – is found in the 9th and 10th amendments. They contain, as the Supreme Court Justice [Douglas] of many years ago once said, a great “penumbra” of rights. It is within those that privacy (and much else) should be placed.

            Sadly, those two amendments are routinely ignored at the convenience of the Court and others. However, your statement that the Bill of Rights “prohibits the federal government (and the individual states as well) from removing these rights, even if a majority of citizens were to vote to do so” is not in there anywhere, as far as your statement concerning voting is concerned. Your statement may or may not be true depending on how such a vote is taken.

            The most obvious situation where that would not be the case would be when a vote is taken to add or rescind a federal constitutional amendment that would change something in the constitution. The more common recent issue is how far states can go within their own constitutions. Provisions within state constitutions where changes have been voted in, can also be taken in the broader context of the 9th and 10th amendments, but often are not, federal courts citing interpretations elsewhere.

            I happen to be a supporter of those two amendments and am always disappointed when government, and the people, ignore them. Many times “the People” don’t even know what they are. But, yes, you are absolutely correct that all of our rights are not enumerated in the Bill of Rights (or elsewhere).

            Sadly, even our most basic rights have been under severe attack in recent years, let alone those not otherwise spelled out.

            1. My statement that, “…the Bill of Rights “prohibits the federal government (and the individual states as well) from removing these rights, even if a majority of citizens were to vote to do so…” makes two assumptions, which I did not bother to elaborate upon.

              The first assumption was that people would understand that I was referring to the 9th and 10th Amendments. I probably should have pointed that out. William O. Douglas was one of my favorite Supreme Court justices when I was in law school, studying Constitutional law. I certainly remember his “penumbra” statement.

              The second assumption was that a vote of the citizens means that people simply vote to remove one or more of our basic Constitutional rights, not that we would be voting to ratify a Constitutional change. Such a vote should, and hopefully would be overturned in the courts.

              Thirdly, remember that these basic human rights do not derive from the Constitution or the government. The Constitution describes some of them, and the government was established in order to protect them. They exist independently of the Constitution and the US government, just as they did before the colonists established the Constitution and the US government.

            2. Zeke, the assumption that the courts would overturn a change to any basic right would seem questionable. Indeed, it is the people who are able to add, or subtract, from the Constitution via a valid amendment, including the Bill of Rights. The courts cannot invalidate such a change. They can only interpret confusions or any apparent contradictions with other sections. True, they overstep themselves at times. But actual amendments are treated with more respect even by the courts. So, should an amendment restrict free speech (as an inconceivable example) via an amendment, it would indeed be restricted and the courts could not arbitrarily invalidate it, assuming the process was correct.

              Invalidations have only come related to state constitutions. I personally feel the courts have often overstepped themselves by such invalidations over the years, invalidating voters. But those only deal with state constitutions, not our federal Constitution.

              I can see you agree that Constitutional law is a fascinating area of the law.

            3. There are two separate processes involved. I think you are confusing them. A simple vote by the people to pass a law that contradicts one of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, or any other portion of the Constitution would be invalid on its face, and the courts would have a DUTY to invalidate it.

              The only way such a law could be put in place with validity would be to amend the Constitution, which is much more than a simple vote of the people.

              To Propose Amendments:

              1. In the U.S. Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate approve by a two-thirds supermajority vote, a joint resolution amending the Constitution. Amendments so approved do not require the signature of the President of the United States and are sent directly to the states for ratification.

              OR:

              2. Two-thirds of the state legislatures ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendments. (This method has never been used.)

              To Ratify Amendments:

              Three-fourths of the state legislatures approve it, or
              Ratifying conventions in three-fourths of the states approve it.

              This method has been used only once — to ratify the 21st Amendment — repealing Prohibition.

              The Supreme Court has stated that ratification must be within “some reasonable time after the proposal.” Beginning with the 18th amendment, it has been customary for Congress to set a definite period for ratification. In the case of the 18th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd amendments, the period set was 7 years, but there has been no determination as to just how long a “reasonable time” might extend.

              Of the thousands of proposals that have been made to amend the Constitution, only 33 obtained the necessary two-thirds vote in Congress. Of those 33, only 27 amendments (including the Bill of Rights) have been ratified.

            4. Zeke, your Reply button is missing on your post so I’m putting it here.
              I am familiar with the amendment process. If you reread my earlier posts, you should note that effectively the only changes to which I referred were those of federal Constitution changes, except where otherwise noted. That was done initially to counter your statement that voters cannot override rights given in the Bill of Rights. Clearly, voters can override those rights by passing a Constitutional amendment. The confusion may have been in your general statement which was over broad. Had you restricted it to merely passing laws, it may have passed muster. But the vote of the people can indeed override rights in the Bill of Rights by way of an appropriate amendment. Indeed, the difficulty is not to be taken lightly. But voters can indeed add or subtract anything they want by passing an amendment. Reread my posts in that light to understand my position. On the other hand, you did not waste your explanation should others still happen to read the article and learn or refresh themselves as to the process. It may also be of interest to those outside the country. So, well done.

    2. I am constantly surprised when an individual becomes righteously indignant at the suggestion that there may strings attached to the free service he or she has been using happily for years.

      Most email for most people lacks the kind of information to make it sensitive. It’s not worth getting indignant about. I pity the fool that ever gets tasked with reading my email. If it IS important, put in a little effort and get the parties with sensitive messages onto private domains and mail servers.

      1. This is precisely why I don’t use “free” internet services. All of my email accounts are with private, local, paid providers. I am guaranteed confidentiality in their terms of service, and I get to filter my own mailboxes. I can even encrypt my emails, if I feel it’s warranted.

      2. Here’s the deal, folks: there is a concept in law of “unconscionable terms” in a contract. In other words, there are conditions that one party might impose on another that are so unfair that the public, via elected officials, judges, regulators, etc. say “That contract term can NOT be enforced, despite both sides supposedly agreeing to it!”
        There are a lot of good reasons for this, including the fact that people are often not really on a level playing field when it comes to negotiating terms with big companies. Or, perhaps the alternative to unfair practices is to pay a lot of money. Result? Only the rich have safety, privacy, access, and so on. That is generally considered bad by those who want a stable, egalitarian, democratic society.
        So, it is a simplistic and lazy position to say “Well, you agreed to let them do something bad to you.” There are good reasons a society should not allow widespread mistreatment of citizens by the powerful.

    3. If you want privacy, then use the US Postal Service. Obviously not as fast (First Class postage take usually 3 to 5 business days for delivery), but any tampering and/or stealing of USPS letters and parcels is a federal crime. And there is always a way to securely tamper-proof and/or use indicators that shows evidence of tampering.

      1. n2014k, long before the Internet, the government gained access to USPS mail. In fact, when email first emerged, there was the thought that it might be more secure than postal mail. That certainly turned out to be completely backwards. However, I remain a big fan of the post office.

    4. “FREE” web mail is not “FREE”, you agree to give up your privacy when you sign up. Those “FREE” services are provided by some, such as Google and Facebook so they can mine your personal information to help in building a more accurate profile on you. Some services, such as those by Apple and Microsoft are less about collecting your personal info and more about competing with the FREEBIE companies and providing user services and convenience.

      If you want private e-mail, pay for it. Set up your e-mail on a private domain, on a private server. There are plenty of services where you can do this for a few dollars per month.

      Two of Grandmas quotes we should all take to heart more often:
      “There is no such thing as “FREE””
      “You get what you PAY for”

    5. If you think ANY email is private OR secure, sign up for a paid game account on any major online game such as World of Warcraft, get some nice in-game loot, and email your username and password to a friend (using any email provider you like, even paid ones). Before you can say “hacked” your email will be read, your game account will be accessed, and your in-game loot will be gone.

      Don’t ever put anything in unencrypted email you would be upset about reading in the local newspaper.

    6. It’s not your email, though. It’s an account you opened with one of those companies in order to use their e-mail. Like it or not, there’s nothing illegal about them looking at the content that you have on their servers. If you want to make sure people aren’t reading your email, you basically need to set up your own email server. Fortunately, if you can afford a Mac mini and a domain name, you can do that pretty easily. Then you only have to worry about it being read in transit, but that’s what encryption is for. The trick is getting everyone else to use it too…

  2. There is a big difference between what is legal or to do and what a company actually does.

    Also, this headline is stupid. None of these companies are coming out and claiming anything. Someone just bothered to read the license agreement.

      1. No sir, I did not…when selecting a company to handle my email, I did not bring an attorney to peruse endless paragraphs of 4 point Times Roman, searching for “civil rights disclaimers.” What I did do, however, was select  because when Steve Jobs ran that company I could trust them. Now I do not. Pretty simple.
        I cannot understand why the commenters on this forum cannot see what has happened to this once great company so rapidly and profoundly.

        1. You are a clown.

          Apple also reserved the right to read your emails with their MobileMe internet service, which Jobs oversaw. See https://opennet.net/apple-mobileme-brief

          From MobileMe:
          “However, Apple reserves the right at all times to determine whether Content is appropriate and in compliance with these [terms of service], and may pre-screen, move, refuse, modify and/or remove Content at any time, without prior notice and in its sole discretion, if such Content is found to be in violation of these TOS or is otherwise objectionable.”

          “Otherwise objectionable” is very broad. Think Steve Jobs cared whether or not you could trust him?

            1. You know that’s not the case, because iCloud uses the same term. If you had read MDN’s summary, you would have seen iCloud’s terms of service provide: “Apple ‘may, without liability to you, access… your Account information and Content… if we have a good faith belief that such access… is reasonably necessary to… protect the… property… of Apple.’”

              Oh gee, “Content.”

              You are a clown.

            2. Additionally, iCloud defines Content for you:

              “Content” means any information that may be generated or encountered through use of the Service, such as data files, device characteristics, written text, software, music, graphics, photographs, images, sounds, videos, messages and any other like materials.

              Gee, “written text.”

              You are still a clown.

  3. THE SOLUTION:
    Encrypt everything.

    I can encrypt ALL my email right now! The problem is getting everyone else to do it. Good like getting my Mom to use PGP or GPG. Not gonna happen.

    Therefore: Innocuous email goes to the non-techies. “Hi Mom! Love You!” Instead of “Hi Mom! Shipment of dynamite arriving tomorrow at 2 pm!” 😉

    You know I hate you NSA, treasonous bastards. 😆 Not kidding! 😀

    1. Saw a new favorite NSA bit on Facebook over the weekend – Maybe if we all email copies of the Constitution to each other, the NSA will finally read it. 🙂

    1. It still is. Email isn’t mail. The closest analogy would be an inter-office in-house mail system. You are using the service of the company to message another person. In both cases, you need to be a “member” to participate; by having an account with iCloud or by being an employee in my analogy. In both cases, the company handling the message can check the message if they choose, but in both cases, the government would (or should) need a warrant to do the same.

  4. Look, you want privacy? Don’t use a service. Buy a static ip, a domain name, and host your own email server. Otherwise, if your mail is hosted on anybody else’s server, you are basically giving up that right. What is to stop anybody in those companies from reading your emails? Don’t be naive.

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