Yahoo to Recommend Apps Based on Scanned Emails

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According to Business Insider, Yahoo wants to start giving you app recommendations based on the content of the emails you receive.

Essentially, the algorithm that Yahoo is working on will scan emails for digital receipts from the App Store and the Google Play store, exact what apps you purchased, then produce a line up of similar apps that you might want to buy. In other words, it’s like Pandora for apps. Except you can’t opt out. Not as long as you use Yahoo for your email, anyway.

How it plans to use this technology is beyond me at the moment, obviously. If I had the expertise to comment on these sort of things I probably wouldn’t be writing about them.

The basis for the idea came from the company’s so called “Hack Day.” Despite the ominous name, this Yahoo get together has little to do with actual hacking. Instead, it’s essentially a company wide competition to “hack” together new, profitable technologies. This algorithm is the idea that apparently won.

This might, at first glance, be considered a huge invasion of privacy. I mean, I don’t want anyone scanning my emails except the person I send them to, let alone have some faceless corporation collect metadata on what kind of apps I purchase.

The problem is, they already do. Not too long ago, Google turned in one of it’s user that was using their email service as a platform to transfer child pornography. In fact, Google, and all other email providers, are required to do so by law.

In fact, these are part of the Terms of Service agreements that we all digitally sign when we sign up for the service.

You read those, right?

Because apparently they take everything except for your immortal soul and your firstborn child. This means that they reserve the right to look at your emails, and have been since day one. Of course, there are far too many emails for giant corporations to reasonably track, so they use a number of algorithms and programs that will screen your emails for things like viruses or child pornography. They do this for a couple of reasons. First, they are required to do so by law, as with the case of child pornography. Next, it’s in their best interest to protect their users from things like spam and viruses, as well as knuckle down on the ones who create and spread them intentionally. Letting in less spam and fewer viruses means that you have more users than your competitor does, which, in turn, means that the ad space you sell is more valuable than your competitors, which means you generate more money.

This is the price of free. In exchange for letting these corporations parse through our private documents and bombard us with ads, we don’t have to pay for otherwise expensive email services. This just happens to be the latest use of those licences that we give them when we sign up for their so called free email services.

Frankly this is a bit of a disturbing trend, one that nobody seems to care about. Not only are companies finding new ways to exploit the existing agreements we have with them, but some companies are taking that even farther. For example, the default permissions in the Facebook Messenger app for Android devices basically turn your phone into a Facebook listening post. The default settings literally allow Facebook to take control of nearly every function of your phone, up to and including making phone calls without your intervention, reading your text messages, and even recording audio and video using your phone’s microphone and camera.

In short, Yahoo is doing a new thing that will allow them to possibly make app advertisements more targeted towards their users, and they’re doing it with the permissions that we gave them when we signed up for the service.