This is a scare piece with an intention to instill fear. Every email you send is like a megaphone in a crowded street of people: personal information, conversations and confidential records are sent like this and are almost always accessible to every third-party you can think of.
An exaggeration? No. You might believe it’s like putting personal and non-personal data on a postcard and sending through the Postal System—surely only a few handlers bother to read it, right? Unfortunately, that’s a best-case scenario. There is a saying about free online services: “If you didn’t pay for it, you are the product being sold.” This is, in fact, the case with many email providers.
Google, like many free email providers, isn’t completely upfront about who has access to what you think of as your email account. “Your account,” of course, is a misnomer. Terms of Service Agreements typically inform you that you merely access a service and that all data belongs to the hosting company. This goes double for Microsoft, Yahoo, and so on.
Most email providers will spell out your rights in a ToS Agreement that most lawyers have problems understanding. They can, and will, access you data on a “when we feel like it” basis. The worst-case scenario for those extra eyes reading your emails, listening to your voicemails, and checking out pictures you have set to Private or Friends Only, is that they might lose their jobs if what they’re doing violates the law outside the terms of your contract. The cops are seldom involved, even when a Google Site Reliability Engineer or two choose to stalk minors.
While most companies won’t admit to it, typically, the ToS legally protects them; and they won’t do anything unless inaction causes a PR backlash. Then someone will get fired. And it’s our own fault for not reading, and just tapping “I do,” without getting to know our corporate spouses beforehand. But considering that most ToS agreements are essentially the same, giving little and taking much more, there isn’t much choice.
There are tools to keep prying eyes away, but the average user isn’t usually willing to use cryptography to take back a portion of their privacy. That’s because most users don’t want to face the tedium to do it, much less read anything on the topic. How masochistic.
Ultimately it is up to end-users to pick and choose where they draw the line, but most will be glad to let someone else draw the line far behind them. Most will be just as happy to step far back, much farther, if told to.
This is a scare piece, and isn’t meant to be taken into consideration or even read past the first sentence. You may now resume your regularly scheduled life-like activity.