/ Technology

Is it right for Yahoo! to snoop on your emails?

Yahoo! logo through magnifying glass

Yahoo! Mail plans to snoop on your emails. Accepting its updated T&Cs give it the right to read your messages and target relevant advertising. Would you be happy if your emails were analysed in this way?

It’s eight in the evening, you’re juggling a glass of wine and a sneaky fag in one hand, while emailing away with the other. You’re venting to your best friend about the latest slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to have befallen your life; secure in the knowledge that nobody’s eavesdropping on your conversation.

Well, before you raise your glass in a congratulatory toast at this self recognition, you need to revisit that last comment, especially if Yahoo! Mail (Yahoo!) is your email service provider.

Why? Because Yahoo! Mail, Which? Computing has learned, is currently in the process of updating its terms and conditions to allow it to read and analyse its customers’ emails and messaging content.

Yahoo! Mail’s updated T&Cs

The world’s largest email provider has said that if you agree to its Additional Terms of Service (ATOS), you’re giving it your express permission to scan and analyse the content of any electronic correspondence sent by your account.

Why is it scanning your emails? In short, to target relevant content and advertising – this is something the email provider lets you opt-out of, but not the scanning itself.

To a certain extent we have no issue with this, if consent is being given freely. The only thing we would say is make sure you read the T&Cs, because if you don’t you’re in for a nasty shock. We do, however, have an issue with Section C. of the ATOS, which states:

‘By using the Services, you consent to allow our automated systems to scan and analyse all incoming and outgoing communications content sent and received from your account (such as Mail and Messenger content including instant messages and SMS messages).

‘If you consent to this ATOS and communicate with non-Yahoo! users using the Services, you are responsible for notifying those users about this feature.’

In other words, it’s saying that it will go on to do the same with any emails sent to your inbox, even if these senders have not given their express consent for this to take place (as they may not use Yahoo! Mail).

Can senders really give consent?

Yahoo! also says it’s apparently down to you to notify senders that their emails are now being analysed, which implies that once this has taken place senders have given their consent. Obviously, we have concerns with this, our main one being whether it’s even possible to get consent vicariously?

We’ve put a few of these questions to the Home Office and will update you as soon as we hear from it. In the meantime, if you object to Yahoo!’s new terms, we suggest you switch to a different email provider.


If this is announced in the same way as on here, I predict many users to jump ship asap.

I don’t know anyone who purposely ticks the box to say “send me promotions etc”, now they can just bombard you according to what you write in your email?

Surely this is snooping and a gross invasion of privacy

gail says:
8 July 2011

DISGRACEFULL Should not be allowed. Whose going to talk to yahoo users now. They may loose out big time in the long term.

iJohn says:
24 June 2011

So, they are just catching up to what Gmail have been doing since day one.

Also, since all mail goes through their servers, you think they couldn’t scan it already?


What do you expect if you use a free email account? It has to be paid for in some way.

If you want privacy, expect to pay for the service. Hopefully, Internet service providers don’t do this because their email service is part of the package paid for by the user.


Well, you just don’t know do you? Seeing as all of our browsing data is sold to market research, who’s to say that they don’t do that with email already?

Sophie Gilbert says:
25 June 2011

That’s me closing my Yahoo accounts forthwith!

Unsure says:
25 June 2011

At first I was worried about the sent emails bit, but then I think Gmail does this as well. Their privacy policy reads:

“Is Google reading my mail? No, but automatic scanning and filtering technology is at the heart of Gmail. Gmail scans and processes all messages using fully automated systems in order to do useful and innovative stuff like filter spam, detect viruses and malware, show relevant ads, and develop and deliver new features across your Google experience. Priority Inbox, spell checking, forwarding, auto-responding, automatic saving and sorting, and converting URLs to clickable links are just a few of the many features that use this kind of automatic processing.”

So I don’t think Yahoo does anymore than that. Senders don’t really need to give consent because it’s just automatic scanning – noone’s actually reading your emails. It’s just keyword stuff. And since you can opt out of the targetted advertising… what’s the problem? Yahoo has your emails anyway, they can pass them all over to the police if requested. In this case it’s just automatic scanning for keywords for ads… gmail does it too.


Hi Unsure,

The issue here is not with Yahoo! Mail scanning and analysing my email for behavioural marketing purposes. After all, I’ve accepted its terms and conditions and so, in theory, I consent to this activity.

But what about the rights of those people who email me, and who don’t want their emails ‘read’ in this way? As it stands, they have no choice but to accept that a service provider who they have no relationship with whatsoever is reading their emails, and no doubt collecting and storing their personal data for who knows what.

You say: ‘it’s just automatic scanning for keywords for ads… gmail does it too….’ but that doesn’t make it any more paletteable. No one really knows just how this data is going to be used in the future.


And certainly something that needs investigating.

Companies say “we don’t sell your data to anyone”, well yes, they don’t sell our exact details, that’s done by the hackers of PS3’s and all other hackees this month, they sell our activity.

As in, what we do, what we like and what sites we visit. Pretty much every click on the internet is tracked by someone.

We, as consumers need to know exactly what details they are selling to 3rd party market research companies, time for Which? to investigate

Carbonize says:
10 July 2011

“But what about the rights of those people who email me, and who don’t want their emails ‘read’ in this way?”

Email is the same as snail mail. It has been sent to you and has therefore become your property to do with as you see fit. In this case you have given permission for Yahoo to scan it.

Your email is already being scanned to detect spam and yet I don’t hear anybody getting in an uproar about that.

Barry Blakesley says:
27 April 2013

Yahoo must know that it is impossible to warn every one who knows your email account that any email they send will be subject to snooping.
What worries me far more is is the extent to which snoopers (Yahoo and/or Google) have the potential to profile all of the senders as well well as the recipient. From the combined knowledge of both senders and recipient, it becomes possible possible to build up a far more extensive and accurate profile (activities, interests etc.) of the recipient. It does not have to stop there – the snoopers can then build ever-better profiles of all senders (regardless of whether or not they are the snoopers’ clients [and the snoopers will argue argue that they have the senders’ implied consent]).
It is only a matter of time before official government snoopers and criminals of various kinds decide to raid the snoopers’ databases whether by law, hacking or bribery & corruption.

Sanjay says:
25 June 2011

Much ado about nothing. Google does the same thing routinely.

Sophie Gilbert says:
26 June 2011

How does Google doing the same thing make the practice more acceptable?