Just how private is your Gmail? According to a recent statement made by Google, Gmail users have no reason to expect privacy. That, the company states, was never part of the deal. Google has also stated that the third-party processing of emails should be implied when the service is used on a regular basis.
Processing is, after all, the way that Google filters out spam and sends information to advertisers. So, if a few emails get read now and then, it's not really a big deal, Google states. Of course, this stance is being heavily contended in court by plaintiffs arguing that Google has no right to tap into Gmail emails. What's a Gmail user to do? Try encrypting those emails, of course!
Encrypting Your Gmail
You can go back to old-fashioned snail mail, but that's not always an efficient way of sending quick messages. A better alternative might be to encrypt every private email that you send. How can you do this?
SafeGmail: this is a Chrome extension that lets users send safe Gmail messages. To use the extension, sign into your Gmail account ensuring that you are using the old Gmail layout. Write an email per usual, and then click the 'Encrypt?' option underneath the subject line. Check this box, and you will be asked to enter a question and answer (make sure that it is not obvious). Send the email to your recipient, making sure that person has the correct answer to your question. That's it.
Encryption Via Firefox
If you want an encryption method to use with Firefox, there's a simple way to set this up too.
Penango: this is a Firefox-specific encryption tool. After installing this extension, you will have to go to the Comodo website in order to obtain an encryption key. Once you have grabbed this key, you can open up your Gmail inbox per usual. You will instantly see an update on your Gmail screen letting you know that Penango has been installed. From there, you can compose and send a message as usual.
One catch: the recipient of your message must also have Penango installed in order to read an encrypted message. If this doesn't happen, that person won't be able to read the message that you've sent, so let them know in advance.
What Else Can You Do
The truth is: not much. If you use a service like Gmail without encrypting an email or two, you are susceptible to third-party sorting (or investigating by government agencies). There is an encryption email service in the works (mentioned yesterday here on this site) that might provide some help in the future. For now, though, it's best to encrypt any message you feel is sensitive.
Do companies like Google have the right to snoop when it comes to services like Gmail? For now, they do. Until a decision has been made by the court system, playing on the side of caution is your best defense. Got encryption questions? Need answers? Ask away!