Yahoo secretly scanned emails for the NSA and FBI -- Apple, Google and Microsoft did not
Yahoo has been having something of a rough time of late, and things are not getting any easier. It has emerged that the company created a custom tool to search customers' emails for specific terms as directed by the NSA and FBI.
Reuters shares the story of two former Yahoo employees who say the company complied with a government directive to search through all incoming emails. In response to the revelations, Apple, Google and Microsoft have all denied engaging in similar activity.
The explosive news is being described as the first instance of a US company agreeing to scan and search all incoming communication in real time, rather than dealing with stored messages. Details of exactly what Yahoo was asked to look out for have not been shared, and the company is saying nothing more than "Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States".
That technology companies have been complying with government requests for data is not new news -- the NSA scandal brought this fact into the cold light of day. But until now we have been led to believe that mass trawling of data resulted in only a small section of correspondence being touched.
Edward Snowden was, unsurprisingly, quick to jump on the story:
Heads up: Any major email service not clearly, categorically denying this tomorrow -- without careful phrasing -- is as guilty as Yahoo. https://t.co/cZSDqi4a49
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 4, 2016
In statements to Ars Technica, Microsoft, Google and Apple all denied that they had done anything similar with customers' emails. Microsoft said:
We have never engaged in the secret scanning of email traffic like what has been reported today about Yahoo.
When Apple was asked, it simply referred to an earlier statement by Tim Cook rather than responding directly to this issue:
I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.
Google was similarly adamant:
We've never received such a request, but if we did, our response would be simple: 'no way'.
Facebook adopted a similar tone in a statement to vocative:
Facebook has never received a request like the one described in these news reports from any government, and if we did we would fight it.
Twitter went into a little more detail, but used its statement to highlight another issue with government surveillance orders:
We've never received a request like this, and were we to receive it we'd challenge it in a court. Separately, while federal law prohibits companies from being able to share information about certain types of national security related requests, we are currently suing the Justice Department for the ability to disclose more information about government requests.
The revelation comes at a particularly bad time for Yahoo. The company only recently admitted that hundreds of millions of account details had been stolen in a major security breach back in 2014. With trust in Yahoo already rocked, this latest news could spell disaster.