Privacy concerns arise over switch to Gmail

“Content extraction” to personalized ads is a worry for some when it comes to “TUmail Powered by Google.”

A recent switch to “TUmail Powered by Google” could cause problems for the users because of data mining technology.

Gmail employs patented “content extraction” processes to individual e-mails, selecting key words or phrases from messages and then targeting those key words or phrases to those users’ accounts. For example, if a user sends an e-mail about dogs, he or she would see ads for Purina pet food or PETCO.
Gmail users consent to e-mail surveillance upon creating their accounts.

Associate BTMM professor Jan Fernback said she has issues with data mining and how it can become a possible goldmine for Google.

Fernback said non-Gmail users have not consented to these terms, but their e-mails are surveyed if sent to a Gmail user. This violates the right to have a private conversation.

She added Google may share the data collected from e-mails with corporate partners, allowing them to build profiles on users.

“What might be in these profiles?” she said. “Information about you, your friends, co-workers, family, your search terms and all the personal information you include in your private e-mail messages.”
This is listed in Google’s privacy policy.

“It’s scary because it is like a lack of privacy, and it’s scary they can go through your e-mails and make a profile about you,” said Laura Edoff, a junior theater major.

The information may be sold to data clearing houses that can develop predictive models of users’ behaviors.

Fernback said this may lead to “information discrimination.”

“As more and more information about all of us becomes digitized through our use of online social networks, Gmail, online shopping, medical records, driver’s license information, arrest records, court documents, lending information, etc., it can be used against us,” she said.

While each user receives increasing amount of free space, e-mails kept for more than 180 days have lower protections from outsider’s access.

Currently, the Google Web Site said the “concepts” from scanned e-mails are not being recorded.
Sheri Stahler, associate vice president of Computer Services, said there are no ads in the university’s TUmail account powered by Gmail.

“As I understand it, they do not look at individual e-mails,” she said. “Gmail calls them sponsored links, not ads.”

“Regular Gmail has ads,” said Jerry Hinkle, executive director of Computer Services, “but we had our university attorneys review the contract. There are no ads while you are a student.”

Michelle Provencher can be reached at

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