Tech, Now + Beyond

If you still have a Yahoo email, the government’s been spying on you

The news that people still have Yahoo email addresses was almost as shocking as the news this week that Yahoo has secretly been spying on its users for the United States government.

Apparently some people are still using Yahoo (does this mean people are actually using Bing as well?). We thought that everyone made the grand switch sometime after having their first embarrassing email account in seventh grade (remember when you used to be bumblebeequeen333 or mickeymouse8?) But, apparently not.

The news that people still have Yahoo email addresses was almost as shocking as the news this week that Yahoo has secretly been spying on its users for the United States government. Yikes.

Woman Using Computer Image

Journalist Joseph Menn of Reuters released a report this week stating that Yahoo has been using software to scan its users’ emails for the US intelligence community since 2015. It’s unclear whether the NSA or the FBI approached Yahoo, or whether they approached other media companies as well (could Facebook or Google be involved too?).

Though Yahoo has released a statement saying that it is “a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States,” many are still concerned. If Yahoo really has been monitoring all of their users’ emails, then they may be involved in a major fourth amendment violation (that’s the “freedom from indiscriminate search and seizure” one).

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced its frustration with Yahoo in a statement released by staff attorney Patrick Toomey: “It is deeply disappointing that Yahoo declined to challenge this sweeping surveillance order because customers are counting on technology companies to stand up to novel spying demands in court.”

Though other media companies could have easily been involved in this scandal, many have released public statements denouncing Yahoo’s actions  (“Facebook has never received a request like the one described in these news reports from any government, and if we did we would fight it,” “[Apple has] never received a request of this type. If we were to receive one, we would oppose it in court,” “[Microsoft has] never engaged in the secret scanning of email traffic like what has been reported today about Yahoo,” and on).

And in general, tech companies have been incredibly dedicated to privacy and fourth amendment rights. Remember when Apple refused to hack into an iPhone for the FBI?

But apparently Yahoo is the exception to this rule (or maybe there’s more we don’t yet know).

Yahoo Logo Image

What we do know is that not everyone at Yahoo supported this decision.

Although Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer followed the government order, Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos left the company to become Facebook’s security chief when he learned of the policy. When Stamos’s team discovered the spying software, he initially thought hackers had found their way into Yahoo’s system.

Yikes! As Stamos emphasized before leaving Yahoo, backdoor programs like that don’t just help company executives, but anyone who wants to hack into a communications network.

It might be time to follow in Stamos’s footsteps and find your way to a different communications service if you’re still using Yahoo. We can’t guarantee that every other email provider is one hundred percent safe, but if you value your privacy it’s sure a good start.

  • Cecilia Nowell

    Cecilia Nowell is a freelance journalist and recent graduate of Wellesley College. She writes about politics and art, and gets excited about graphic novels, mythology, and art therapy. In her free time, she runs a cat blog, drinks too much tea, and enjoys hiking.