WHILE LISTENING TO emails sent by Media Writing students to my (private Nokia E90) email address, I endured a mind-numbing six-page metadata version of a Press Release. Normally, my email lands on my Nokia E90 and it's ready to read itself to me. One piece of mail today arrived with a large grouping of tags ahead of the body of the message. The tags were placed inside the email because the body of the mail was pasted in from a Microsoft Word document, thereby converting the email into rich text format. A lot of people do this but they might not know about the special treatment given to the e-mail.
Behind popular services like Yahoo!, Hotmail, and G-mail sits a little process that attempts to make sense out of some of the information that passes through the mail servers. In my case, Yahoo! carefully attached geodata to the name of every city and country mentioned in the email. As a metadata custodian, I can imagine where the results of that geotagging landed. I can see one of the results displayed as geo-aware advertisements on pages I read online at Yahoo! News and Yahoo! Entertainment. Because I have watched Yahoo! keep me abreast of advertisements for Irish activities even when logged in from hotels in England and the States. I think some of this targeting is often derived from careful analysis of my e-mail content.
All of these outcomes are clearly permitted by Yahoo!'s privacy policies.
It looks a little daunting when you see the e-mail in the form used to parse and award meaning to my electronic correspondence. I've linked to an online document below that contains both the original screen of information in front of the data that appeared on my E90's dumb e-mail client. I also include several pages of Yahoo's privacy policies as a yardstick for their careful consideration of my online habits.
The data-harvesting technology used to catalogue locations that might interest me are also used by some corporate IT departments in data-mining exercises useful in preventing the compromise of intellectual property. If you've been around the internet for longer than the Bebo Boomers, you probably treat everything you send online as items in the public domain. You should know that your e-mail is a public commodity as well. Don't send e-mail unless you wouldn't mind the information traveling as a standard post card through the world.
Inside My Yahoo! Mail is a 74 kb Word document.