Recent news from Google is not from Google, but from the government. It is not good news for Google or for anyone, really, except the third party apps that gain access to your private email data. You read that right – other app developers can read your Google emails. I have been mulling this over and decided that it was time to start migrating to a more secure email platform.
In a post on The Verge, citing a Wall Street Journal report, “Third-party app developers can read the emails of millions of Gmail users, a report from The Wall Street Journal… Gmail’s access settings allow data companies and app developers to see people’s emails and view private details, including recipient addresses, time stamps, and entire messages.”
The WSJ report also talked to “Return Path and Edison Software both of which said they had human engineers view hundreds to thousands of email messages in order to train machine algorithms to handle the data.”
First, I am a huge fan of Google. I love their products, their research, their work, overall. I would not say I am a “fanboy” but as close as one gets while still being a reasonable adult. Second, I have known for a while that Google is just as loose with data as is Facebook, so shame on me for not taking action sooner. I did start a ProtonMail account not long after reading about some other privacy flaw in, well, just pick your platform and there is probably a weakness.
Yes, I know that you can encrypt your email with Google’s Gmail service, but that is not nearly as elegant as what ProtonMail offers. The main service is free, but there are paid levels that grant you more features and storage. Here are a few of their features pulled from their home page:
“End-to-End Encryption: All emails are secured automatically with end-to-end encryption. This means even we cannot decrypt and read your emails. As a result, your encrypted emails cannot be shared with third parties.” That is pretty wild if you think about it – not even they can read your emails. Or maybe it isn’t that wild, after all, but something we have given up on in American culture.
The main selling point for me was that ProtonMail does not require any special installs, can be used on any device, and you can send and receive emails normally . I will still keep my Gmail account, but I will migrate my main contacts, personal and business conversations, to the secure ProtonMail platform.
Big Brand Tech Trust Eroding
One of my favorite writers, John Battelle, provides what seems like the perfect way to end this post. He talks about trust and big tech brands in his post: This Is How Amazon Loses. In a nutshell, he highlights how algorithms are chipping away at our trust. But at the core of the algorithm is a team of people that make a decision where they compromise on our consumer privacy.
“Do you love Amazon anymore? For that matter, do you love Facebook, Google, or Twitter? Interactions like the one I’ve detailed above are starting to chip away at that presumption. Personally, I’ve gone from cheerleader to skeptic over the past few years, and I’m broken out into full-blown critic over the last twelve months. I no longer trust Amazon to have my best interests at heart. I’ve lost any trust that Facebook or Twitter can deliver me a public square representative of my democracy. I’ve given up on Google delivering me search results that are truly “organic.” –John Battelle
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You can read the full Verge post here, which lists more players beyond Google that might be compromising on your email privacy.
Identity management company Janrain polled US internet users in April and their survey suggests “a consumer mindset that is generally wary of the ways that digital companies make use of personal data. Just over half (51%) of those polled said they were “very concerned” about the security and privacy of their data , and 43% were somewhat concerned.”
Irony: While I’m finishing this post in a Starbucks, the classic song by Rockwell featuring Michael Jackson, “Somebody’s Watching Me,” is playing on this fine Halloween evening. Hmm.
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