Google has just pushed an update to its Terms of Service covering its ecosystem of Internet services, particularly Gmail. While the new ToS doesn't really change anything in the way Google scans emails, it now makes that whole process explicit, showing just how much you are practically allowing Google to see.
Email scanning is a particularly contentious subject, especially in light of recent spying and data collection scandals. It is almost somewhat more far-reaching than, say, monitoring browsing habits because it can potentially cover not just the email you send out but also those you receive, even when the sender uses a different service provider. Understandably, Google has been the target of many a complaint as well as class action suits accusing Google of violating several privacy laws in order to serve up personalized ads.
Google, for its part, never denied the practice and is now actually making it even more clear. The revised service agreement now contains a whole paragraph dedicated to explaining what the purpose of content scanning is and what is covered. And this isn't just for email, though that is also explicitly mentioned, but affects any content uploaded, submitted, stored, sent, or received via Google's services.
"Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored."
As one can see, it also covers content you receive from other people, which may not sit well for those who do not want Google's eyes on them. Though to be fair, scanning is claimed to be used not just for tailored ads but also for spam and malware detection, something users would probably appreciate. Google believes it has not broken any law since Gmail users agree to these terms when they signed up for the service as part of the email delivery process. The question now is how much attention users pay to these types of agreement and how much privacy they are willing to sacrifice to use Google's services.