I recently asked “Is Gmail worth the risk”?
The same question can be posed about the free email services it competes against, such as Microsoft Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, as Digital Markets readers have rightly noted:
What about Yahoo and Hotmail. Yahoo and Hotmail are not any better. They both insert your true IP address in the headers of each email you send using their service. So much for being anonymous with Yahoo and Hotmail.
On Caution. I've never full relied on any of the web-based email providers with ALL of my information. Never used their calenders or fully filled out the contact info, etc. because I didn't rely on them to keep this information safe. My biggest problem with Google gmail (which I use) is that they keep copies of ALL my emails. Since I have nothing to hide that shouldn't really worry me, but it does. It's like being stalked. Nothing stolen, nothing used (maybe), but the idea of someone fingering my clothes, going through my journals or sizing me up leaves me feeling abused in a vague sort of way that you can't quite put a finger on. Vague or not the feeling remains and so does the fact that you're being stalked. That being so one never knows when (or if, to be honest) it's going to become more intrusive -- when is their "interest" going to move from vague to very much in your face?
Your Ability to Edit and Delete Your Account Information
You can edit your Yahoo! Account Information, including your marketing preferences, at any time. We reserve the right to send you certain communications relating to the Yahoo! service, such as service announcements, administrative messages and the Yahoo! Newsletter, that are considered part of your Yahoo! account, without offering you the opportunity to opt out of receiving them.
You can delete your Yahoo! account by visiting our Account Deletion page; information might possibly remain in our archived records after your account has been deleted.
When you register with Yahoo! or submit information to Yahoo!, a temporary copy of that information is routinely made to prevent accidental loss of your information through a computer malfunction or human error.
If you ask Yahoo! to delete your Yahoo! account, in most cases your account will be deactivated and then deleted from our user registration database in approximately 90 days. Any information that we have copied may remain in back-up storage for some period of time after your deletion request. This may be the case even though no information about your account remains in our active user databases.
Use of Your Personal Information
Personal information collected on Microsoft sites and services may be stored and processed in the United States or any other country in which Microsoft or its affiliates, subsidiaries or agents maintain facilities, and by using a Microsoft site or service, you consent to any such transfer of information outside of your country.
Accessing Your Personal Information
You may have the ability to view or edit your personal information online.
Some Microsoft sites or services may collect personal information that is not accessible via links. However, in such cases, you may be able to access that information through alternative means of access described by the service. Or you can write us by using our Web form, and we will contact you within 30 days regarding your request.
I concur with TalkBacker Merrlyn cited above: "Since I have nothing to hide that shouldn't really worry me, but it does…Vague or not the feeling remains and so does the fact that you're being stalked. That being so one never knows when (or if, to be honest) it's going to become more intrusive…"
The Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group are concerned as well.
Their November 1, 2006, “Complaint and Request for Inquiry and Injunctive Relief Concerning Unfair and Deceptive Online Marketing Practices” with the Federal Trade Commission puts forth:
The policies governing consumer privacy on the Interent have failed to keep pace with the developments that continue to re-shape the online world…
Consumers entering this new online world are neither informed of nor prepared for these technologies and techniques—including data gathering and mining, audience targeting and tracking—that render users all but defenseless before the sophisticated assault of new-media marketing…
Current privacy disclosure policies are totally inadequate, failing to effectively inform users how and what data are being collected and used.
The complaint cites Microsoft, Google and Yahoo as “actively rewriting the rules that govern the online marketplace” and asserts it is:
Incumbent on the Federal Trade Commission to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices, including
Exposing practices that compromise user privacy,
Issuing the necessary injunctions to halt current practices that abuse consumers,
Crafting policies, and recommending federal legislation, to prevent such abuses.