Security Tech News

Yahoo Has Been Spying on Your Emails for the NSA

Dave Parrack 05-10-2016

If you have a Yahoo Mail account, Yahoo has been scanning all of your emails to help U.S. intelligence agencies. At least according to Reuters. After receiving a “classified directive,” Yahoo built custom software to scan all of its email traffic for the NSA and/or FBI.


Reuters claims the governmental agencies were looking for a specific string of characters. Yahoo chose to comply with the order to search for this string of characters. And, as a result, scanned millions of emails, all without users’ knowledge or approval.

We don’t know what that string of characters was, or who the authorities were targeting. We also don’t know whether this wholesale scanning of unsuspecting users’ email accounts proved successful. All we do know, assuming the former employees who leaked the story are telling the truth, is that Yahoo chose to snoop on its users How Britain's "Snoopers' Charter" Might Affect You British Prime Minister David Cameron intends to resurrect the "Snooper's Charter", a privacy-breaching set of new measures to enable enhanced monitoring of communications by the security services. Can it be stopped? Read More .

Yahoo issued a statement simply saying, “Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.” However, it is possible to abide by the law without agreeing to spy on your users in such an egregious manner.

Yahoo Goes Above and Beyond

There’s a danger we’ll all start thinking this is the normal state of affairs Your Interest in Privacy Will Ensure You're Targeted by the NSA Yes, that's right. If you care about privacy, you may be added to a list. Read More . Whereas in actual fact this is the first known instance of a company proactively scanning incoming emails at the behest of an intelligence agency. At least in the United States.


Other big tech companies have been quick to condemn Yahoo’s actions here…

Google said, “We’ve never received such a request, but if we did, our response would be simple: ‘no way’.” Microsoft insisted, “We have never engaged in the secret scanning of email traffic like what has been reported today about Yahoo.” Apple made it clear, “We have never received a request of this type. If we were to receive one, we would oppose it in court.” Facebook maintained, “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.” And Twitter stated, “We’ve never received a request like this, and were we to receive it we’d challenge it in court.”

So, it seems clear that Yahoo complied with a request that almost every other tech company in the U.S. would have turned down. Which puts the company in a very awkward position right now. Yahoo needs to explain its actions here, or its users will surely never trust it again.

Do you have a Yahoo Mail account? What’s your immediate reaction to the allegation Yahoo has been snooping on your emails for the NSA? Will you be closing your Yahoo account as a result of this revelation? Please let us know in the comments below!

Image Credit: Christoph Scholz via Flickr

Related topics: Surveillance, Yahoo, Yahoo Mail.

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  1. Nikki
    October 5, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    Great I just got an email from them about 3 weeks ago saying change your passwords there's been a breech. I doubt they're related but still

  2. Kev Quirk
    October 5, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    The pessimist in me automatically thinks that the other tech companies are just saying to make themselves look good. I sincerely hope that's not the case though.

    The issue I have, is that people just don't care about their online security or privacy. They would rather assume that these huge companies will keep their best interests at heart, but that isn't always the case, as proven here.

    The general consensus is that if you take these things seriously, you should be donning the obligatory tinfoil hat. This perception really needs to change - due to being too open online, how many people have to get hacked, lose their jobs, or worse (Kim Kardashian break in) for this stuff to be taken seriously?

    Great article.

    • Dave Parrack
      October 5, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      I doubt the other companies are lying about not being asked to do something similar. As if it was ever to emerge that they lied, they'd lose all credibility. However, who knows whether they would actually fight tooth and nail or just comply for an easy life as Yahoo appears to have done.

      People, especially younger generations, seem to have a laissez faire attitude towards privacy. Which is, of course, exactly what the intelligence services want to foster.