As CNN.com explains, messages are scanned using automated tools to ascertain whether images and links violate community standards. For example, a photo depicting child pornography or a link with a virus (“malware”) could be automatically flagged. Users can also manually flag messages that they think are in violation of standards. In both cases, the tech company then has moderators assess the messages and potentially remove them.
Facebook does not use the information in private message for advertising data, according to Bloomberg.com.
However, it’s not just Facebook that scans your messages — it’s Google, too.
How Gmail Scans Your Emails
In July 2017, Google admitted it had been scanning Gmail users’ accounts to personalize advertising, TechCrunch reported. Google said it would stop doing so to assuage the fears of paid G Suite customers and align Gmail (which is free) more closely with G Suite.
Diane Greene, Google’s senior VP for Google Cloud, told TechCrunch this change “brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products.”
That doesn’t mean Google is no longer scanning emails. They are — just not for advertising. As Variety explains, the Google app on your phone is scanning your Gmail for information like flights and restaurant information. The company also scans for viruses and fraudulent behavior, which is how certain emails end up in your spam box.
To be clear, the scanning is automated. It’s not as though a person is sitting and reading your individual emails; instead, a computer scans your emails looking for keywords and forms alerts accordingly. As Variety explains, Google also offers a Smart Reply, which “reads” the email to discern the intent and uses computer algorithms to give users the options of short responses.
Are Other Emails Scanned?
It’s not just Gmail users who are having their emails scanned. The email providers for Apple, Yahoo, and Hotmail read users’ emails, too, the Guardian reported.
Investigators for Microsoft even went so far as to read through a bloggers’ Hotmail account in an attempt to uncover an internal leak and protect their property.
This is legally allowed, thanks to the terms and conditions of service for these email providers. While it may upset users who expected complete privacy, they actually agreed to these terms when opening an account.
Unfortunately for Facebook, the company is still in hot water as stocks dipped and Zuckerberg is set to testify before the House of Representatives oversight panel regarding the privacy issues after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. However, what this will mean for the rest of the Silicon Valley companies who want to mine our data is not yet clear.