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To Counter NSA Snooping, Yahoo, Others Encrypting User Data

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By William Peacock, Esq. on November 19, 2013 10:55 AM

Every week, there is a new NSA revelation. First, they were only collecting phone call metadata from a single cell phone carrier. At last count, they were tapping into email services and sniffing data from the pipelines between major tech companies' servers.

To prevent this latter scenario from continuing, Yahoo announced on its Tumblr blog yesterday that it would encrypt their email service, all user data that travels between its servers (regardless of service), as well as all data that goes to and from end-users. In theory, this should greatly reduce the amount of snooping without a court order.

Encryption? Huh?

Picture when you mail a letter at the post office. It goes from you, through the mailboxes, mail carriers, post office, and the postman before reaching its destination. Your mail could be intercepted during any point in transit. The same thing happens with your data online, both on the way from your computer to Yahoo, and when Yahoo needs to talk to its other servers across the country.

Encryption scrambles the data so that if it is intercepted, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to read. Yahoo is set to have its email encrypted by January 8, 2014, and all other data encrypted by the end of Q1 2014.

But Why?

Well, they might just care about you and your privacy.

Or, more realistically, the company is worried about losing security-conscious users, especially those abroad whose rights are even more non-existent than domestic users. Yahoo, like every other Internet company, relies on steady user traffic across its dozens of services for ad revenue. If users are spooked by the NSA, and go elsewhere, the company's stock prices fall. And as one of the PRISM-implicated companies, Yahoo needs to be especially concerned.

Not Just Yahoo

According to The Associated Press, Google's email has been encrypted since 2010, and is in the process of encrypting user data on many other services. Facebook has also mentioned plans to increase encryption, though no timetable has been set.

How About You?

Does any of this make a difference to you? Would you choose, or change email services based on encryption efforts, or do you feel like you are too insignificant for the NSA to care about? Share your thoughts on LinkedIn.

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