Just How Safe is Your Email… Really?

With recent data breaches, including the Russian hacking of 1.2 billion user name and password combinations and 500 million email addresses, consumers are concerned about their privacy and protection. Which raises the question how safe is your own email?

The big three – Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, have all faced scrutiny for their privacy practices. In 2013, Google admitted that Gmail’s emails are subject to “automated processing” – and users have “no legitimate expectation of privacy in information [they] voluntarily turn over to third parties.” Google automatically opens and processes emails that originate from non-Google accounts to one of Gmail’s 500 million users, scanning the email content for keywords. Those keywords are used for targeted advertisements to you and your contacts.

According to Google, nothing is amiss with this practice. If you’re a Gmail user, though, you’ve essentially agreed to this in Google’s terms of service (TOS), allowing Google to scan and process your emails. Those who are corresponding with you without Gmail accounts, however, have not agreed to these TOS. When the news broke that Google was scanning our emails, Microsoft launched its “Scroogled” campaign, stating: “Google goes through every Gmail that’s sent or received, looking for keywords so they can target Gmail users with paid ads. And there’s no way to opt out of this invasion of your privacy. Outlook.com is different—we don’t go through your email to sell ads.”

Google’s response to the Scroogled campaign? “Advertising keeps Google and many of the websites and services Google offers free of charge. We work hard to make sure that ads are safe, unobtrusive and relevant. No humans read your email or Google account information in order to show you advertisements or related information.” Google added: “An automated algorithm — similar to that used for features like Priority Inbox or spam filtering — determines which ads are shown.”

So what about those who haven’t signed Google’s terms of service? Google relies upon a 1979 Supreme Court ruling, Smith v. Maryland, which states that citizens “lose their right to privacy” when they hand off their personal documents to third parties. Google’s former CEO and current executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, feels that these practices are ethically sound. He stated: “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”

So who else might be wiggling their toes on the “creepy line?” Google isn’t alone in email scanning: Microsoft does scan emails, too. And while Microsoft’s scanning is designed to block spam, the process is still very similar to Google’s. Stefan Weitz, Microsoft’s senior director of online services, stated that Microsoft’s scanning is entirely benign.

“In the most general sense of the word, the ‘scan’ is the same,” Weitz stated – but the intent is altogether different. Weitz contends that Google’s lack of “transparency” about the information collected from emails and searches is troublesome. Weitz argued that Microsoft is specifically scanning for keywords that would be red flags from spam, while Google’s keyword scans are for targeted ads.

And what about Yahoo? They scan your emails, too.

Yahoo was recently ordered to face claims that it illegally shares the content of our emails, using this data for advertising purposes. U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh is well-acquainted with email privacy lawsuits: She ruled in March of this year that Google’s privacy policy about mining user emails for information was misleading and vague. Shortly afterward, Google changed its user terms. Earlier his month, Koh stated that Yahoo email users can pursue Yahoo’s alleged violation of a California anti-eavesdropping and anti-wiretapping law.

Yahoo’s response? The company asserted that its terms of service and privacy policy note that it scans, collects, analyzes and stores emails. Yahoo further stated that email subscribers are responsible for notifying the nonsubscribers that they communicate with – and Judge Koh agreed. According to Judge Koh, Yahoo’s terms of service do establish explicit consent from email users to scan and analyze all emails for targeted advertising. And while Yahoo successfully fought the claims that it uses nonsubscriber emails to target advertising, Judge Koh recently ruled that they will still face electronic-storage claims.

So just how safe is your email? With increased scrutiny from citizens and courts alike, privacy policies are reflecting increased transparency about how and why information is collected from email users.

Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo all have privacy policies pertaining to the information that they collect – and how they use it.

Google’s privacy page states: “When you share information with us…we can make those services even better – to show you more relevant search results and ads, help you connect with people, or to make sharing with others quicker and easier. As you use our services, we want you to be clear how we’re using information and the ways in which you can protect your privacy.”

Microsoft’s privacy page states: “…we are able to compile information over time about the types of pages, content and ads you, or others who are using your computer, visited or viewed…We use this information to help select and display targeted advertisements that we believe may be of interest to you.”

And Yahoo’s privacy page states: “By bringing content and advertising to you that is relevant and tailored to your interests, Yahoo provides a more compelling online experience. Our customized ‘smart’ services save you time and cut through the clutter.”

Whether you’re concerned about getting scroogled, microscanned, or yah-whoed, the who, what, and why of free email provider policies are readily available – and it’s your informed decision to make.

How Do You Build a Nation

How do you build a nation? According to history Professor Jeremy Suri, nation-building is an effort to build institutions and practices that allow people to govern themselves in peaceful – and prosperous – ways.

In his book, Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama” (2011), Suri outlines five principles that are crucial for successful nation-building: partners, process, problem solving, purpose, and people. But these five principles don’t just apply to building a nation – they’re important for building a robust campaign or company, as well.


Partners are critical for nation-building – they strengthen and complement one another’s efforts. Communication and collaboration between partners is pivotal, whether you’re building a new country or a new campaign. NationBuilder partners with specific companies to ensure that its customers receive a comprehensive, synergistic experience and support services that are second to none.

The organization’s partners include Accurate Append, which provides high-quality data enhancements to connect you with your constituents and your customers; ActionSprout, which engages people inside Facebook with social actions and converts high-performing Facebook posts into contact lists; and CallHub, which sends automated phone calls and texts to your NationBuilder lists. NationBuilder’s experienced partners work synergistically to ensure action, engagement, and the best possible result for each customer.


Nation-building is a process. According to Suri, human societies don’t follow formulas – and NationBuilder doesn’t, either. Clients and campaigns are complex and unique – so NationBuilder tailors each client experience. NationBuilder uses multiple page types and user profiles, building custom responsive designs using NationBuilder Theme Sync – because people and campaigns are not formulaic.

Problem Solving

Leaders need to start small and address basic, specific problems. In his article NationBuilder Changed Everything (2013), Peter Wrinch, Executive Director of Pivot, discussed how NationBuilder was a strategic turning point for his company.

Wrinch stated: “The original reason I wanted to switch to NationBuilder is because it could solve a very specific problem: it could link our supporter records with our email list. My goal was to be able to compare our communications with our fundraising and make sure that both were integrated and effective.

“The more I read about NationBuilder, the more I realized that not only could it solve the link between communications and fundraising, but it could solve a number of the other issues Pivot had been living with for years.”


For a growing nation, small beginnings must serve a larger purpose – and citizens must see the value in what they’re doing. For a growing company, customers must see the value in the commodity that’s being offered. When NationBuilder founder Jim Gilliam was diagnosed with cancer, online organizing ultimately saved his life – and Gilliam immediately saw the value in a company that could help organize and engage others.

Gilliam stated: “The purpose of NationBuilder is to bring that kind of power where everyone can connect with people who can help them accomplish great things.”


A nation is a group of people who are united behind a common purpose. NationBuilder unites those who care about what you’re doing – your fans, followers, constituents, members, donors, volunteers, and customers. For the world’s first community organizing system, nation-building is about accessibility, organization, and leadership. NationBuilder is an accessible, affordable, complete software platform that helps leaders organize, grow, and build.

You can build a nation, a company, or a campaign with Suri’s five principles, but you’ll need action, experience, and engagement to be successful.

So how does NationBuilder build a nation?

One person, one partner, and one process at a time.