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Email Privacy: Is what you get worth what you give away?

90% of adults agree that consumers have lost control of how their data is collected

According to Pew research, more than 90 percent of adults agree that consumers have lost control of how their data is collected and shared online by companies. The majority of online users seem to be aware that companies have some access to personal data but are unsure which companies have access to what information and how they exactly obtain it and use it.

It is becoming more known that “free” online services do come at a cost, the cost being the collection and distribution of your personal data for advertising purposes. Free service providers such as Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, and WhatsApp build profiles of their individual users (you) which they sell to third party companies so that they can target you with adverts. Targeted advertising can be advantageous and accepted in some instances. There seems to be a trade-off between the convenience of targeted adverts and personal privacy with which most people are comfortable.

But targeting can quickly become less convenient and more intrusive very quickly!

A friend of mine recently got engaged and had been communicating with friends about the engagement through her Gmail account. She had commented how she noticed wedding venue and wedding related adverts had started to show up in her Gmail account and on her social media newsfeeds. She thought this was quite “convenient” as the adverts were relevant to her at that specific time.

During this period she was also going through some women related medical issues, she communicated with close friends through Gmail about it and also received her medical appointments through email. She noticed that she then started to receive adverts in her Gmail and Social media news feeds related to this medical condition. She was extremely alarmed at how intrusive this was in respect to the sensitive information that must have been used to target her. This is when targeting over steps the boundary, when we want to share thoughts and feelings with close family or friends that are not intended for others.

A judge in the USA recently decided to allow a privacy lawsuit against Gmail ( The case was taken against Gmail by a gentleman who actually didn’t even have a Gmail account. Although he didn’t use a Gmail account, he did communicate with people that did use one. As a result he still had his sent emails scanned upon receipt and he was subsequently targeted with adverts based on his content. His case is founded on the fact that as a non-Gmail user, he never agreed to their terms, thus should not be subjected to an invasion of privacy.

The point to take here is that although targeted adverts can be convenient at times, the profile that is being built on you based on your communication or shared content is extremely intrusive to your privacy. These “free” services, although having many benefits, make hundreds of millions from selling you and all of your personal information. But before you sign up for another “free” service, just think is what you are getting more valuable then what you are giving away.