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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Google Privacy: Emails, Off-the-record Chats

Google’s services, like Gmail, have privacy policies, but I think it’s not always clear what is meant with sentences like “Google maintains and processes your Gmail account and its contents” (what does this processing consist of? Under what circumstances is which Google employee involved in reading your emails, for instance?). I asked Google who of their employees gets access to email contents. Also, I asked them whether or not Google Talk chats which were flagged with the “off-the-record” option would really not be permantly recorded. Here is their answer (my emphasis in bold; take their statements with whatever level of trust or doubt you deem appropriate):

We take our users’ privacy very seriously. We restrict access to personal information to Google employees who need to know that information in order to operate, develop or improve our services. They must agree in writing to special restrictions designed to protect our users’ privacy, and violation of these restrictions is grounds for immediate termination.

For Gmail, only a very small set of Gmail-team employees interacts with user data and – importantly – only accesses the minimum amount of user data required for their task. The vast majority of tasks involve looking only at details about the message, not the content of the mail itself. For example, a debugging task or an abuse prevention task might require just the message header.

We are continually looking for ways to automate tools or processes to further reduce the need for even this limited set of people to view systems with personal information.

As for your Google Talk question: When a user takes a chat ’off the record,’ anything exchanged from that point forward is not saved in either user’s Gmail account or anywhere by Google.


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