A Google spokesman zigged last week when he should have zagged.
First, NBC reported that Google’s data collection practices “include scanning your email to extract keyword data for use in other Google products and services and to improve its machine learning capabilities.”
Spokesman Aaron Stein added: “We may analyze [email] content to customize search results, better detect spam and malware” -- and that it had done so since 2012.
Red alert: Reporters who knew that Google promised last year to stop scanning Gmail for targeted ads quickly confronted the company. Stein then reached out to NBC to say that he meant “narrow use cases” in Gmail.
And what are those?
"First, since 2012, we’ve enabled people to use Google Search to find information from their Gmail accounts by answering questions like 'When is my restaurant reservation'?," Stein said.
He added: "We present customized search results containing this information if someone is signed in and asks us for it. Second, like other email providers, our systems may also automatically process email messages to detect spam, malware and phishing patterns, to help us stop this abuse and protect people’s inboxes.”
Uh, they lost us a little there. How does that differ from the uses outlined in litigation now going on?
The issue isn’t whether Google is defending users against malware, but how it is using data on users for marketing purposes, and whether this is in compliance with GDPR.
The bigger issue, of course, is whether the privacy policies now being detailed by firms in emails by hundreds of firms consist of legal mumbo-jumbo or finely honed words that say nothing.
It’s like Groucho Marx said in a movie: “Why, a four-year child could understand this. Go out and find me a four year-old child — I can’t make head or tail of it.”
For its part, Google is advising users, “Nothing is changing about your current settings or how your information is processed. Rather, we’ve improved the way we describe our practices and how we explain the options you have to update, manage, export, and delete your data.”
Don’t think that NBC is a sympathetic observer of all this. “The more Google products you use, the more Google can gather about you,” it said. “Whether it’s Gmail, the Android smartphone operating system, YouTube, Google Drive, Google Maps, and, of course, Google Search — the company is collecting gigabytes of data about you.”
On top of this, Oath recently announced that it will now scan AOL emails for use in advertising, as it already does Yahoo Mail messages. So it is walking further into the mess that Google is trying to walk out of.
GDPR takes effect in 11 days.