Is email really private?

Is email really private

 

Every day hundreds of millions of emails are sent. Some of the emails contain mundane items like the latest sale on airline fares. Other emails may contain personal, financial and healthcare information you don’t want anybody else to see.

What most people don’t realize is a vast majority of the email on the internet is unencrypted and open for anybody to read or harvest information from. A majority of users have Yahoo mail or Gmail accounts but retrieve their messages on their smartphones or desktop email clients. As emails move across the internet, hopping from server to server, your emails are duplicated and stored unencrypted.

So, why do people and companies want to read your emails and harvest your information? Its simple, to make money legally through sending you ads or illegally by stealing your assets. The more information that data harvesters find out about you, the finer the targeting mechanism can be used on you. A bulk phishing email from a foreign prince asking you for assistance to transfer assets into the country is much less effective than a fake email from your boss telling you to pay the attached invoice from a new vendor. Both emails are bogus, but the second email is spear phishing by specifically targeting you from a known sender.

What can you do to prevent your privacy loss?
First, be aware nothing is ever free, including email services. Recently, Google disclosed that 3rd party apps had access to Gmail emails for data analysis. Somebody somewhere has to make money. Even if the email itself is private, apps layered on top to remind you of appointments, find you shopping and travel deals, be your personal assistant or get you dates, may be harvesting your personal information and sharing it with unknown third parties. Second, find your email providers privacy policy and go over it with a fine toothed comb. Most companies offer a means to opt out of their data collection, but if data collection is the prime function of the app, opting out may render the app crippled or useless.

Email may be indispensable in today’s modern life, but you can limit the value of your harvested information to the data harvesters. Be careful with your personal information and know who is receiving your information. Turn off third party sharing in your browser and check the terms of use agreement with your service providers. If browsing, entertainment or email service doesn’t require your shopping habits, location, browsing history, etc, change your app settings, don’t give it to them.

Using privacy software like PrivatizeMe will disrupt third party data harvesting and obscure the digital fingerprint of your device when checking your email via a browser. If you can’t be identified, targeted or spear phishing attacks directed towards you are much more difficult. To some extent there is safety in numbers by being part of the herd.

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