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Yahoo Collaborating With US Intelligence Agencies

Laura Atkins

It was revealed yesterday that Yahoo has been scanning people's email for the federal government.

Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers' incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events. (Reuters)

This activity was, apparently, authorized by Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer but not the former CSO Alex Stamos. Mr. Stamos left Yahoo in June 2015. He also publicly disagreed with the director of the NSA back in February 2015 about the NSA having access to encrypted data.

This is probably the part where I'm supposed to write something insightful, but honestly, I don't have much. Like many people, I'm shocked and dismayed at Marissa Meyer's decisions to allow this. I'm also somewhat heartened by the fact that, reportedly, Yahoo staff detected the malicious software within a few weeks of it being deployed. Apparently the deployed software was buggy and could have been compromised by third parties.

On the heels of a major compromise of email accounts by "unrelated 3rd parties" I have to wonder how much more bad news Yahoo can take. They've had their ups and downs, but most folks I know who worked there don't any longer. It's certainly not a place anyone I know considers when looking for new jobs.

In many ways it's sad to watch one of the foundations of the internet flail and fail. It didn't have to be this way, I'm sure.

What's interesting is who has commented on this.

Verizon: nothing I can find. If you remember, Verizon announced a deal to buy Yahoo for 4.83 billion dollars this past summer. The deal was supposed to close in Q1 2017. Wonder if Verizon is questioning their purchase now?

Other companies have responded.

Google: We didn't and wouldn't do this.

Microsoft: We didn't and wouldn't do this.

Twitter: We didn't and wouldn't do this.

Facebook: We didn't, wouldn't and will fight any attempt at this.

We know Apple has fought this kind of request, publicly. Interesting to note in that article, Yahoo is not one of the technology companies listed as supporting Apple's stance.

I'm sure this isn't going away any time soon. The internet, privacy, free speech, access, harassment, abuse… these are all issues many folks have hand waved around for a long time. Now we're really going to have to start addressing them, not just with technology but also with real, concrete actions.

By Laura Atkins, Founding partner of anti-spam consultancy & software firm Word to the Wise
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Related topics: Email, Privacy

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