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From the Archive: Mining E-mail Back in 1993

How attitudes towards electronic privacy have changed in the last 20 years.
August 8, 2012

Today we posted a couple of stories about mining work communications for useful insights (see “How to Spot the Next Big Banking Scandal” and “Microsoft’s Workplace Social Network Becomes Emotionally Aware”).

Both these stories suggest ways that the vast corpus of communications flowing through companies could be analyzed by algorithms to provide business-critical information.

Back in April 1993 we were still figuring out the legal implications of employers having access work email. In an article in the Trends section of Technology Review magazine we analyzed recent court cases and legal opinion on the matter. 

From the article: 

lt hasn’t replaced the telephone yet, but as a medium for personal communication, electronic mail is rapidly becoming the way millions of people, in both the home and the office, choose to reach out to each other to solve problems, share gossip, make dates, or complain about the boss. Still, as with nearly every other aspect of the ever-expanding world of cyberspace, there are murky legal frontiers at the end of the e-mail trail.

(To read the full piece download a PDF of this issue from the archive section of our website.)

Given how much personal information we routinely hand over to Facebook and other services, I suspect most people would oddly be quite comfortable with their bosses mining their communications and behavior. But I might be wrong—perhaps we’ll be analyzing a new set of court cases related to employees’ electronic privacy before we know it. 

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