Google has never offered Gmail for free just out of the goodness of its heart. There are strings attached. One of those strings is that your e-mail can be scanned and used for activities like serving up advertising.
Google's terms of service haven't changed overnight, but awareness of them has, thanks to a Google filing that says e-mail users should really have no expectation of privacy.
This can be found within a motion to dismiss a class action data-mining lawsuit that objects to Google's e-mail scanning practices. Specifically, the motion quotes the 1979 Supreme Court case Smith v. Maryland, saying that "a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties."
The quote is quite broad, which has led to some consternation among Gmail users, but it's being used to defend Google's position on third-party non-Gmail users who send e-mails to Gmail accounts.
This issue isn't about Google opening up your e-mails and sharing them with anybody who wants to take a look. It's about the regular automated e-mail scanning that goes on. Still, it has led some users to think a little more deeply about how Google handles Gmail and privacy.
As CNET's Molly Wood points out, Google's access to your e-mail data shouldn't come as a surprise. The company searches and indexes e-mail in order to serve up contextual ads, filter spam, and prioritize messages.
Let's look back to a time when you first signed up for Gmail. Maybe you scrutinized the terms. Maybe you didn't. Most people probably don't. Back then, did you expect your Gmail to be totally private, or did you really consider the ways in which Google's systems browse your communications?
Perhaps you fully understood Google's reach into your electronic communications, but figured it was worth the trade-off and signed up anyway. Maybe you were bothered by the potential privacy issues and went elsewhere for your e-mail needs. Whatever your situation, vote in our poll and tell us about it in the comments.