The Daily Yomiuri reports that Japan is investigating Yahoo’s new ad system in its Web-based e-mail service. The system scans e-mails and creates targeted advertising based on the scans. This is similar to the process that Google uses with its Gmail service, which raised privacy questions at its start and has continued to do so. A Japanese official notes that the administration could not investigate the issue with Google, “because the company, which places its servers abroad, is not considered a telecommunications administrator in Japan.” However, Yahoo is registered as a telecommunications administrator in Japan. The Daily Yomiuri reports:
There are concerns that the interest-matching advertising technology Yahoo! Japan is adding to its free mail service in August will violate the privacy of its users because it displays ads based on analysis of their e-mails.
Yahoo said the new technology will not cause privacy infringements because consent from users of the free e-mail service–said to total 15 million people in Japan alone–will be sought. […]
The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said it will question Yahoo to determine whether the technology would violate the Telecommunications Business Law, which guarantees the privacy of communications. […]
Regarding letters, the Penal Code and the Postal Law prohibit postal service administrators from opening and reading them. Likewise, the Telecommunications Business Law stipulates that privacy of communications must not be breached. Under the law, communication administrators may be jailed for up to three years or fined up to 2 million yen if they actively learn of or disclose the contents of e-mails.
Yahoo says its ad service will not breach the privacy of its members because the e-mails will be automatically processed electronically, and will not be read by people. However, the communications ministry said that electronic processing and human analysis are usually considered the same thing.
The new ad system is also under criticism because not only does it read e-mails written by Yahoo members, but also the e-mails they receive from nonmembers. […]
But, Hisamichi Okamura, a lawyer specializing in privacy issues, said this practice could violate the communications law since the agreement of both parties is usually necessary for a third party to read personal communication.