Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has been criticized in recent months for not being clear about its policy of scanning emails and other content, so it has recently updated its terms of service so that there can be no confusion.

Google Email

“Our automated systems analyse your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customised search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection,” the company announced, The Inquirer reports. “This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”

In other words, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL)’s scanning policy is “everything, all the time.”

New Google TOS goes beyond targeted ads

To some extent this isn’t new. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has always reserved the right to scan people’s emails, but it claimed to only do so when necessary and ‘in good faith’, whatever that meant. Since Google makes its money from targeted ads, many people have been working on the assumption that Google scans for keywords or other information for demographic purposes (which is already far more than would be legal with regular mail), but the new terms of service go much, much further.

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) says that not only will it scan your content, but that it has the right to “use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (…) communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.”

If you write a play and send the script to a friend for comments, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) reserves the right to publicly perform your play. Google tacks on a caveat that it will only use your content for limited purposes, but then includes developing new services to that list of purposes. So no, right now there probably isn’t any reason for Google to set up a performance of your play, no matter how good it is, but if they ever decide that such a performance is in their interest they can claim the right to do so.

Similar policies would never fly with normal mail

As a comparison, imagine if FedEx Corporation (NYSE:FDX) announced that not only have they started reading everyone’s mail, but they plan to make copies and use those copies however they see fit. The uproar would be incredible, but email somehow hasn’t inherited the protections we expect from snail mail.

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL)’s new terms of service stops short of asserting ownership over all content that passes through their system, but not by much. Most likely it’s just scanning data to assist their ad business, but the company has left the door open to use any content that passes through its system in any way it sees fit.