Email Privacy… How Private Is Your Email?

Email privacy is more of a myth than a fact… so be careful out there.

Most personal and business email is not unencrypted, which means that however unlikely, people with the right ambition, tools and knowhow can gain access to our email messages. The downside of most encryption software is that it would slow down the send/receive process.  Every email message would require authentication which would reduce the immediacy and ease of use of email with customers, suppliers, friends and family that we all enjoy.Email Privacy Is A Myth

An example of encryption that doesn’t slow down every the send/receive process is when email encryption is pre-authenticated between two or more specific routers and servers. In this case, every email message that would pass between them would flow without individual authentication; a large organizations intranet service could most easily employ such server-to-server security.

What Email Privacy Should Employees Expect?

Business Email Written On Business Equipment

Employees should expect that business email written using an employers’ equipment is 100% available for the employer to review… and most employers do monitor their employee’s email. Sometimes employers might conduct a routine audit – or an email audit might be precipitated by a concern or complaint. Either way, employees should always conduct themselves knowing that at any moment the email they send or receive might be read.

Even a deleted message still exists, therefore if an employee receives an email they think might get them in trouble, their best course of action is to notify their supervisor / HR department. Deleting it might only get them into more trouble down the road.

Personal Email Written On Business Equipment

Personal email written using an employers’ equipment is also open for the employer to review… especially if a business email address is used. To be completely transparent, many employers have an employment policy that requires employees to agree via their ‘Collective Agreement’ they will not use company time/equipment or resources (like an email address), for personal use. This of course includes any messages on smartphones or other devises… tools that can falsely lure some people in a sense of ‘personal space’ for email, text messages and even web searches.

Your employer might routinely scan email for specific words, or your employer might conduct a review of your email account precipitated by a concern or complaint, but either way… you should have no expectation of privacy. Therefore, care with personal email at work should be taken as it can at best lead to an embarrassing discussion with senior management – or at worst lead to being dismissed.


Email privacy is a myth, and even though there may be some variability related to jurisdiction, email should not be considered private.

When using an external service provider (which most of us do for our personal email), the only other way our email messages (personal or business), could legally be accessed is with a court order. That’s great, except that most – if not all of the major email service providers have established email privacy policies that give them the right to ‘read’ users’ email (note: ‘read’ most often refers to having an automated systems analyze email content). This is an area of concern for many people who use external service providers.

Most service providers also clearly state they will not, “rent, sell or share information that personally identifies you for marketing purposes without your express permission. No email content or other personally identifiable information is provided to advertisersas Google does. In this case, the generally accepted purpose for this behavior is to ‘improve their services, and/or to protect their rights and/or property’. And while this seems to be true… many also clearly state in their privacy policies that they do use your email content to collect market behavior information to target relevant advertising.

So again, the take-home on this is that email should not be considered private.

Happy communication and email writing. 

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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