As Google buys Postini, corporate email surveillance grows

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by: John Caddell

I shrugged my shoulders when I read the news the other day that Google was buying Postini, the corporate spam-filtering service provider. Oh, well, another acquisition. Google does about one of those a week, it seems. What's the big deal?

(Photo by hilaryaq via stock.xchng)

Then I read Stephen Baker's post on the subject in BusinessWeek Blogspotting, and I felt a weird vacuum in the pit of my stomach. Here's why: Postini's service searches all a company's emails looking for spam signals. It's trivial, especially given Google's expertise in real-time search, to expand that into looking for leaks of confidential information, customer or analyst communication that doesn't follow procedure, or… anything else. Writes Baker:

Once these data are searchable, it will become ever easier for managers to apply advanced analytics to corporate messaging. They'll be able mine these data for the latest trends of words and subjects that employees are writing about. Mapping the social networks inside and outside the company will be a cinch. And as automatic reading programs improve, companies will also be able to track the rising and falling sentiments of their work force.

Creepy, eh? Think about that the next time you send a dirty joke to your friends through your corporate email account. Or receive one, for that matter.

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