D. Štrbac

Email Privacy

When the term 'privacy' is mentioned in the context of email, many immediately associate it with concepts of absolute secrecy, imperviousness to surveillance, figures like Snowden, and programs like Prism. While these notions may be captivating, it's important to recognize that the majority of individuals are not involved in espionage, drug trafficking, or military communications.

The discourse surrounding privacy has veered off course. Nowadays, the primary descriptor attached to email providers is 'privacy.' We do indeed require privacy, but not necessarily from entities like the NSA, CIA, FBI, or our national cybersecurity agencies. It's crucial to maintain traceability of criminals, a task often accomplished through the tracking of IP addresses and network access.

The privacy concern that deserves our attention pertains more to corporate giants such as Google and Microsoft. When we utilize their email services, they gain insights into our communication partners, the content of our messages, and associated metadata, including our location, client information, and device details. While this may seem inconsequential at first glance, the accumulation of such data on a global scale, as seen with Google and Microsoft, who control 80% of the global email market, not only grants them gatekeeper status but also enables them to amass vast quantities of information related to political movements, trade secrets, and communication on an unprecedented scale. No government should wield such extensive powers, and certainly, no corporate entity should ever hold such dominion.

The concern becomes even more pressing in the era of large language models. We've reached a juncture where all email communications can be scrutinized and processed by automated systems, and it's no surprise that the technology leaders in this realm are Google and Microsoft. Unfortunately, legislation often lags far behind the current state of affairs. Both of these providers maintain that email data isn't utilized for advertising purposes but is instead subjected to machine analysis for the purpose of spam filtering. However, it's essential to recognize that this very spam filtering process involves an in-depth examination of message content, leading to the accumulation of knowledge derived from it. In essence, email, as we currently understand it, would be rendered impractical without spam filtering, leaving users without choice.

The current state of email systems can leave users feeling somewhat like hostages. Attempting to self-host an email system often requires individuals or organizations to seek the approval of the gatekeepers, which in this case are the major email service providers. Even if one manages to secure reputable IP addresses, they may still encounter challenges in getting their messages accepted and delivered reliably.

This situation underscores the centralized nature of email services and the significant power wielded by a handful of major providers. It also highlights the difficulty individuals and smaller entities face in trying to regain control over their email communications. Finding viable alternatives or advocating for changes in the way email services are structured may be essential steps toward ensuring greater autonomy and privacy in email communication.