As we know, all Internet Service Providers can read email sent and received using POP addresses on their networks (e.g. Rogers, Bell, etc.), and domain administrators can read email sent and received on their domains (e.g. although hopefully they have better things to do, and anyone with truly sensitive information should encrypt it before sending.

Google candidly admits that it scans every email for relevant content words, as a method of delivering targeted ads when a person views their Gmail on Google’s web platform. As noted by computer expert Leo Notenboom, “the software that selects the ads reads the contents of the page looking for relevant keywords to get a sense of what the page is about, and then tries to display ads that are targeted at or near that same topic.” This is similar to a web browser (e.g. Safari, Internet Explorer) collaborating with Google in real time to deliver targeted ads while you are viewing a website. For example, as we’ve all experienced, if you are looking at an automobile site, the Google ads on it likely will magically show automobile tires for sale. If the Gmail is sent to you directly by POP then there is no automatic content scanning, because there is no open web browser to scan.

This type of scanning is used not only by Google and web browsers generally, but also by sites like Facebook where it will scan what you’re doing to see how it can better target you for ads. Thus the ads are more effective, meaning that advertisers will spend more money, which in turn generates more revenue, to better allow these free services to have more features. Email already is inspected by packet sniffers along the way to your ISP’s servers, and by spam filters too. If you don’t like the additional inspection by Google on its Gmail platform you can always not use it, or refrain from opening it in a web browser to be on the safe side. But, what to do about that pimply faced IT kid at the office over in cubicle 37 who has access to everyone’s email, included boss’s?