It was reported yesterday that Yahoo! secretly scanned users’ email on behalf of the government. Apparently the action was approved by CEO Marissa Mayer and took place outside of the realm of then Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who left the company and joined Facebook. The full article from Reuters is here.
This morning I wiped out my old Yahoo account. I created it a few years ago for the purpose of accessing Flickr (which was acquired, and subsequently destroyed by Yahoo), but I hadn’t been on Flickr in a long while so it wasn’t a really big deal getting rid of the account. I probably have a couple of other accounts in the Yahoo space that I need to delete. I’ll be taking care of that this weekend.
This latest revelation of an Internet company doing nefarious things on behalf of the government (all to save us from Terrorism, of course), got me thinking about Internet privacy in general. I’ve mentioned before that weird ads have started appearing in my Facebook feed, all based on search engine results, visiting another site or, oddly, having a conversation with Earl in the presence of an apparently eavesdropping device. My friend Jeff and I talked about a similar situation this morning: last night he looked at some flooring at Lowe’s, exchanged a couple of text messages with his husband on the subject, did one Google search and then met his husband at a Zaxby’s for supper. This morning he is getting the exact flooring ads “exclusively available at Lowe’s” and ads for Zaxby’s showing up in his Google search results and other places around the web.
I’ve been watching friends slowly drift away over the past couple of months. Either the algorithm is showing me what they think I want to see or friends are posting less in general. A few friends and family have given up Facebook entirely. I removed it from my phone a while back as I was not comfortable with having ads shoved in my face based on random searches I had done on the Internet. This morning I removed Facebook (and that awful cretin, Facebook Messenger) from my iPad as well.
In the past I’ve made it clear that I’m not in favor of an ad-supported Internet. Tailoring ads to my specific desires does not ease my frustration with advertising in general, if anything, it exacerbates the issue because it’s a reminder as to how much information Google or Facebook or Amazon or whatever has accumulated on me. I mention these things to users of all things Google and they always tell me they don’t mind because they have nothing to hide.
It’s kind of like knowing that you dance to “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” completely naked every morning in front of the mirror as part of your workday routine and that you wouldn’t mind doing that same dance, naked and all, on stage in front, of an audience. Or walking into a post office and seeing everyone’s mail tacked up on the wall for all to read. All of these things are very much possible when you give up your privacy, even if you give up your privacy because after all, you don’t really do anything bad to begin with.
Since there’s nothing to really hide from the government in your email, why don’t we take it a step further? Perhaps legislation requiring that all mail passing through the U.S. Postal Service must be in clear envelopes or clear package wrapping would make people take notice. After all, it’s an identical approach to letting Yahoo go through its users’ email, just a different medium. “Let’s just look the package over to make sure there’s nothing in there we’re interested in.”
I don’t think the American Public wants to be treated that way. That’s why I get so crazy about Internet Security and fair, legal practices that follow the letter of the law.
I deleted my Yahoo account today. And I’m damn proud of it.