Monday, 4 October 2010

Are your personal emails being scanned?

While at work yesterday I came across

Fridays edition of the Metro which I hadn't read, so proceeded to do so.  The headline was "Online snoops put Britain in the dock" which caught my interest.

It reports that Britain has been flouting European rules on internet privacy re online snooping for eighteen months and is been taken to court.

BT began testing Phorm software in 2006 to monitor internet activity to identify customers surfing habits and then place targeted advertisements on websites visited.  If you visit Phorm's website it does not mention scanning personal emails.

The majority of my incoming mail is from nursing/medical sites and sure enough all adverts relate to same.  Really I don't have a problem with this.

Oddly enough, on Saturday, when reading an incoming email from a friend, I noticed that the adverts related to the two main themes of my received, personal, private email.  I had never noticed this before as I pay little or no attention to the adverts.  I mentioned this find to my son who remarked that it was "Sinister".

After reading said article in the Metro I decided to browse through all my personal, saved emails.  In approximately 95% of cases - sure enough, the adverts related to themes in the letter.  Sheep were mentioned in one and all adverts related to sheep.  A friend mentioned that a close relative was near death in another and adverts in the sidebar related to palliative care, medical treatments, emergency surgery, etc - now I find this sick!

I do have a serious problem with my personal received and sent emails being scanned for the purpose of advertising.  It is not right and it is sinister!

Check your personal emails!

I am pleased that Britain is being hauled before the European Court of Justice!



Neil80 said...

It is cheeky at best and as you say grossly inappropriate at worst. Facebook uses the same sort of technology; It scans your info for keywords and targets adverts at you based on this. As its a fairly simple automated bit of software there is no privacy issue, but all the same there is a real tinge of exploitation about it.

Hypercryptical said...

Hi Neil80

The problem (to me) is what Phorm purports to do and what they actually do are two different things.

They claim to gather info on interests via surfing history, and if they do mention scanning emails for key words - which they obviously do - it must be written in very small and well hidden print.

After checking ads that appear opposite personal emails - I realise the ads are not static and change a little with every viewing - but the theme remains constant.

I can say with a 100% confidence that I have never browsed sites re sheep, taxis, walking holidays, etc - but these will be a theme in my incoming mail and therefore incoming mail is scanned also. This is wrong!

Phorm states that as a user I will have been given an "unmissable" invitation via my ISP. It was certainly missable and as far as I am aware - didn't happen!

I accept there is no real privacy issue, but nevertheless, feel that my privacy has been invaded.

I could go off on a paranoid slant here and propose that what we accept now is a slow creep towards accepting a total invasion of our privacy - and we won't realise it's happening. But that's another story.....

Anna :o]

Anonymous said...

Google does this too with gmail. I caught on to this because I receive emails in different languages and the the adverts change language to the one in the email that I am reading.