By Upasana Bhattacharjee
Google announced, in a recent blog post, that it will stop scanning through the content of personal email accounts. The company had previously followed the practice of scanning through content in order to tailor advertisements to its users. This practice, however, was never in place for users of G Suite. The move is regarded as a welcome step towards rebuilding user confidence, despite Google’s access to various other means of attaining information about its users.
The feature in question
2014 saw the clarification on the email scanning practice in terms of service update. Customers using the free version of the service provider would compulsorily have automated systems analysing their content while it was sent, received, and stored. G Suite customers, who pay to use Google web apps, have never had their email content scanned for tailoring advertisement. However, such scanning has been employed to pick up spam, hacking, and phishing attempts.
The decision to stop the email scanning comes following a class action lawsuit Google faced earlier this year. A federal judge ultimately rejected the deal that had been arrived at, describing it as ‘inadequate’. The settlement is said to have been unclear in its disclosure about Google’s abilities to intercept, scan, and analyse the content of users’ accounts.
Privacy in a digital age
This aspect of Google’s surveillance abilities has been at the forefront of debates concerning privacy in cyberspace. The move to stop the email scanning is largely welcomed by Google’s user base. Activists have often claimed that the scanning of content was equivalent to “unwarranted eavesdropping” on users. While other Google services have the provision of disabling advertisement personalisation, it is only after this move that the free email service will offer that option.
Will this make a difference?
While the move is a step forward in the debate surrounding online privacy ethics, gauging the actual benefit of this move is a more intricate issue. Personalised ads are still going to be provided, although only on the basis of other data like browsing habits. Further, Google apps can still scan data using artificial intelligence, which implies scanning through email content when certain features are used.
Service providers like Google have access to enormous amounts of details of its users. Unfortunately, leaving the grid is not a practical option for most people concerned by this problem. People should be aware that data stored online has become a means of formulating profiles of users that are invariably, and by default, permanent in nature.
Reducing people to binaries strips them of the ambiguity that makes them so deeply human and reiterates an age-old debate of the humanities, albeit in a very different context. Among the deeply abstract challenges technology bestows upon philosophy, privacy is the issue at the helm of the discussion. While dystopian fiction about tech-based totalitarian regimes (appealing as it may be) is far-fetched, the constant gaze upon users and their awareness of it is transforming society in ways that are very real and making it stare down at the deep abyss of conformity.
Featured Image Source: Pexels
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius