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Security & privacy

Wow! Your email provider is reading your messages

Remember that email you sent that was meant to be read just by the person you sent it to? It might have been a joke that was not meant for anyone else or perhaps contained some details that were private and not meant for different eyes.

It could also have been innocuous but really, it didn’t matter. The only person who was reading it was the one it was sent to and unless they shared it with someone else there was nothing to worry about.

Well, it turns out that’s not entirely true. We have learned that if you use Yahoo! or AOL for email, your messages might be scanned by others.

Hold on a minute, why are they doing that?

The practice is actually not really anything new, although supposedly most email providers are not partaking in it. Yet, Yahoo! and AOL accounts are being monitored as a way for their respective companies to make more money.

In Yahoo!’s case, they have been doing it for more than a decade, with the program even expanding over time.

According to Oath, which is part of Verizon Communications and owns both Yahoo! and AOL, email scanning has proven to be one of the most effective tools for improving their ad targeting. They note that it only applies to commercial emails in peoples’ accounts and that users have the opportunity to opt out.

From their site:

“Your messages are shared only with the people you want. We may anonymously or pseudonymously share specific objects from a message with a third party.”

According to Oath, their automated systems, among other things, analyze communication content (IE: mail and messenger services) along with photos and other data uploaded to your account in order to provide, maintain and improve product features, improve their services and match and serve targeted advertising.

Automated systems are one thing, but the company’s privacy policy also allows for Yahoo!’s human employees to review parts of some commercial emails.

The practice of analyzing emails is offered as a way to learn clues about what products their users might purchase. In turn, that allows them to offer more targeted advertising within their email services.

It makes sense when you think about it insomuch that if the companies read your emails, they’ll have a better idea of what you are talking about, and with that knowledge could make the advertising experience more effective for both sellers and shoppers.

Yet, the idea that employees could be accessing and reading our emails is quite frightening, and plenty disturbing. There’s a reason why the concept has mostly been abandoned by email services, leaving Yahoo! and AOL as the only ones — that we know of — who are still doing it.

Can you opt out? Yes

While not presented out front and center, the ability to opt out of interest-based ads is there. They warn that opting out will also apply to other products they offer, including “analyzing communications content for advertising purposes and receiving interest-based content.”

We’re guessing you’ll be fine with that.

In order to opt out, first tap or click on this link here. It will take you to a master page with a list of Oath features, with columns divided up for Yahoo products and AOL products.

One of the sections is for the advertising, with a link for “Ad Interest Manager” for Yahoo and “Opt-Out of interest-based advertising” for AOL.

Those will bring you to new pages with step-by-step instructions, along with more information on what, exactly, you will be accomplishing.

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