Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Google: No 'expectation of privacy' for Gmail users

Google: No 'expectation of privacy' for Gmail users

By Brett Wilkins
Aug 14, 2013 - 9 hours ago in Int
Mountain View - Users who send or receive information via Google's Gmail should not expect their messages to remain private, the Internet giant argued in a court motion seeking the dismissal of a class-action lawsuit.
CNET reports the 39-page motion, filed in June in an attempt to have a class-action data mining lawsuit dismissed, cites Smith v. Maryland, a 1979 US Supreme Court decision that upheld the warrantless collection of electronic communications.
"Just as the sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient's assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if the emails are processed by the recipient's [email provider] in the course of delivery. Indeed, 'a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.'"
In the current class-action complaint against Google, the plaintiffs argue that Google's automated email scanning is an illegal and non-consensual interception of their communications. Google counters that users accept such intrusion in exchange for email services. Courts, the tech giant argues, have found that email users "necessarily give implied consent to the automated processing of their emails."
"Google has finally admitted they don't respect privacy," John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director, said in a statement. "People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents' privacy, don't use Gmail."
Simpson compared sending email to "giving a letter to the Post Office."
"I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on the envelope," Simpson said. "I don't expect the mail carrier to open my letter and read it. Similarly, when I send an email, I expect it to be delivered to the intended recipient with a Gmail account based on the email address; why would I expect its content to be intercepted by Google and read?"
In 2009, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told CNBC that the company needed to comply with the USA Patriot Act, which was passed in reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and significantly weakened restrictions on government and law enforcement ability to monitor communications.
"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place," Schmidt infamously opined.
The issue of email privacy has taken center stage of late, largely due to the Edward Snowden case. Snowden, a former NSA employee, is wanted by the US for leaking classified documents about government surveillance practices.
Gmail screen shot

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Over the past half century, parenthood has undergone a change so simple yet so profound we are only beginning to grasp the enormity of its implications. It is that we have our children much later than we used to. This has come to seem perfectly unremarkable; indeed, we take note of it only when celebrities push it to extremes—when Tony Randall has his first child at 77; Larry King, his fifth child by his seventh wife at 66; Elizabeth Edwards, her last child at 50. This new gerontological voyeurism—I think of it as doddering-parent porn—was at its maximally gratifying in 2008, when, in almost simultaneous and near-Biblical acts of belated fertility, two 70-year-old women in India gave birth, thanks to donor eggs and disturbingly enthusiastic doctors. One woman’s husband was 72; the other’s was 77.
These, though, are the headlines. The real story is less titillating, but it tells us a great deal more about how we’ll be living in the coming years: what our families and our workforce will look like, how healthy we’ll be, and also—not to be too eugenicist about it—the future well-being of the human race.
That women become mothers later than they used to will surprise no one. All you have to do is study the faces of the women pushing baby strollers, especially on the streets of coastal cities or their suburban counterparts. American first-time mothers have aged about four years since 1970—as of 2010, they were 25.4 as opposed to 21.5. That average, of course, obscures a lot of regional, ethnic, and educational variation. The average new mother from Massachusetts, for instance, was 28; the Mississippian was 22.9. The Asian American first-time mother was 29.1; the African American 23.1. A college-educated woman had a better than one-in-three chance of having her first child at 30 or older; the odds that a woman with less education would wait that long were no better than one in ten.
It badly misstates the phenomenon to associate it only with women: Fathers have been getting older at the same rate as mothers. First-time fathers have been about three years older than first-time mothers for several decades, and they still are. The average American man is between 27 and 28 when he becomes a father. Meanwhile, as the U.S. birth rate slumps due to the recession, only men and women over 40 have kept having more babies than they did in the past. 
In short, the growth spurt in American parenthood is not among rich septuagenarians or famous political wives approaching or past menopause, but among roughly middle-aged couples with moderate age gaps between them, like my husband and me. OK, I’ll admit it. We’re on the outer edge of the demographic bulge. My husband was in his mid-forties and I was 37—two years past the age when doctors start scribbling AMA, Advanced Maternal Age, on the charts of mothers-to-be—before we called a fertility doctor. The doctor called back and told us to wait a few more months. We waited, then went in. The office occupied a brownstone basement just off the tonier stretches of New York’s Madison Avenue, though its tan, sleek sofas held a large proportion of Orthodox Jewish women likely to have come from another borough. The doctor, oddly, had a collection of brightly colored porcelain dwarves on the shelf behind his desk. I thought he put them there to let you know that he had a sense of humor about the whole fertility racket.
The steps he told us we’d have to take, though, were distinctly unfunny. We’d start with a test to evaluate my fortysomething husband’s sperm. If it passed muster, we’d move on to “injectables,” such as follicle-stimulating and luteinizing hormones. The most popular fertility drug is clomiphene citrate, marketed as Clomid or Serophene, which would encourage my tired ovaries to push those eggs out into the world. (This was a few years back; nowadays, most people take these as pills, which are increasingly common and available, without prescription and possibly in dangerously adulterated form, over the Internet.) I was to shoot Clomid into my thigh five days a month. Had I ever injected anything, such as insulin, into myself? No, I had not. The very idea gave me the willies. I was being pushed into a world I had read about with intense dislike, in which older women endure ever more harrowing procedures in their desperation to cheat time.
If Clomid didn’t work, we’d move into alphabet-soup mode: IVF (in vitro fertilization), ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer), even ZIFT (zygote intrafallopian transfer). All these scary-sounding reproductive technologies involved taking stuff out of my body and putting it back in. Did these procedures, or the hormones that came with them, pose risks to me or to my fetus? The doctor shrugged. There are always risks, he said, especially when you’re older, but no one is quite sure whether they come from advanced maternal age itself or from the procedures.
My husband passed his test. I started on my routines. With the help of a minor, non–IVF-related surgical intervention and Clomid, which had the mild side effects of making me feel jellyfish-like and blurring my already myopic vision, I got pregnant.
My baby boy seemed perfect. When he was three, though, the pediatrician told me that he had a fine-motor delay; I was skeptical, but after a while began to notice him struggling to grasp pencils and tie his shoes. An investigator from the local board of education confirmed that my son needed occupational therapy. This, I discovered, was another little culture, with its own mystifying vocabulary. My son was diagnosed with a mild case of “sensory-integration disorder,” a condition with symptoms that overlapped with less medical terms like “excitable” and “sensitive.”
Sitting on child-sized chairs outside the little gyms in which he exercised an upper body deemed to have poor muscle tone, I realized that here was a subculture of a subculture: that of mothers who spend hours a week getting services for developmentally challenged children. It seemed to me that an unusually large proportion of these women were older, although I didn’t know whether to make anything of that or dismiss it as the effect of living just outside a city—New York—where many women establish themselves in their professions before they have children.
I also spent those 50-minute sessions wondering: What if my son’s individual experience, meaningless from a statistical point of view, hinted at a collective problem? As my children grew and, happily, thrived (I managed to have my daughter by natural means), I kept meeting children of friends and acquaintances, all roughly my age, who had Asperger’s, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit disorder, sensory-integration disorder. Curious as to whether there were more developmental disabilities than there used to be, I looked it up and found that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, learning problems, attention-deficit disorders, autism and related disorders, and developmental delays increased about 17 percent between 1997 and 2008. One in six American children was reported as having a developmental disability between 2006 and 2008. That’s about 1.8 million more children than a decade earlier.
Soon, I learned that medical researchers, sociologists, and demographers were more worried about the proliferation of older parents than my friends and I were. They talked to me at length about a vicious cycle of declining fertility, especially in the industrialized world, and also about the damage caused by assisted-reproductive technologies (ART) that are commonly used on people past their peak childbearing years. This past May, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 8.3 percent of children born with the help of ART had defects, whereas, of those born without it, only 5.8 percent had defects.
A phrase I heard repeatedly during these conversations was “natural experiment.” As in, we’re conducting a vast empirical study upon an unthinkably large population: all the babies conceived by older parents, plus those parents, plus their grandparents, who after all have to wait a lot longer than they used to for grandchildren. It was impressed upon me that parents like us, with our aging reproductive systems and avid consumption of fertility treatments, would change the nature of family life. We might even change the course of our evolutionary future. For we are bringing fewer children into the world and producing a generation that will be subtly different—“phenotypically and biochemically different,” as one study I read put it—from previous generations.

What science tells us about the aging parental body should alarm us more than it does. Age diminishes a woman’s fertility; every woman knows that, although several surveys have shown that women—and men—consistently underestimate how sharp the drop-off can be for women after age 35. The effects of maternal age on children aren’t as well-understood. As that age creeps upward, so do the chances that children will carry a chromosomal abnormality, such as a trisomy. In a trisomy, a third chromosome inserts itself into one of the 23 pairs that most of us carry, so that a child’s cells carry 47 instead of 46 chromosomes. The most notorious trisomy is Down syndrome. There are two other common ones: Patau syndrome, which gives children cleft palates, mental retardation, and an 80 percent likelihood of dying in their first year; and Edwards syndrome, which features oddly shaped heads, clenched hands, and slow growth. Half of all Edwards syndrome babies die in the first week of life.
The risk that a pregnancy will yield a trisomy rises from 2–3 percent when a woman is in her twenties to 30 percent when a woman is in her forties. A fetus faces other obstacles on the way to health and well-being when born to an older mother: spontaneous abortion, premature birth, being a twin or triplet, cerebral palsy, and low birth weight. (This last leads to chronic health problems later in children’s lives.)
We have been conditioned to think of reproductive age as a female-only concern, but it isn’t. For decades, neonatologists have known about birth defects linked to older fathers: dwarfism, Apert syndrome (a bone disorder that may result in an elongated head), Marfan syndrome (a disorder of the connective tissue that results in weirdly tall, skinny bodies), and cleft palates. But the associations between parental age and birth defects were largely speculative until this year, when researchers in Iceland, using radically more powerful ways of looking at genomes, established that men pass on more de novo—that is, non-inherited and spontaneously occurring—genetic mutations to their children as they get older. In the scientists’ study, published inNature, they concluded that the number of genetic mutations that can be acquired from a father increases by two every year of his life, and doubles every 16, so that a 36-year-old man is twice as likely as a 20-year-old to bequeath de novo mutations to his children.
The Nature study ended by saying that the greater number of older dads could help to explain the 78 percent rise in autism cases over the past decade. Researchers have suspected links between autism and parental age for years. One much-cited study from 2006 argued that the risk of bearing an autistic child jumps from six in 10,000 before a man reaches 30 to 32 in 10,000 when he’s 40—a more than fivefold increase. When he reaches 50, it goes up to 52 in 10,000. It should be noted that there are many skeptics when it comes to explaining the increase of autism; one school of thought holds that it’s the result of more doctors making diagnoses, better equipment and information for the doctors to make them with, and a vocal parent lobby that encourages them. But it increasingly looks as if autism cases have risen more than overdiagnosis can account for and that parental age, particularly paternal age, has something to do with that fact.
Why do older men make such unreliable sperm? Well, for one thing, unlike women, who are born with all their eggs, men start making sperm at puberty and keep doing so all their lives. Each time a gonad cell divides to make spermatozoa, that’s another chance for its DNA to make a copy error. The gonads of a man who is 40 will have divided 610 times; at 50, that number goes up to 840. For another thing, as a man ages, his DNA’s self-repair mechanisms work less well.
To the danger of age-related genetic mutations, geneticists are starting to add the danger of age-related epigenetic mutations—that is, changes in the way genes in sperm express themselves. Epigenetics, a newish branch of genetics, studies how molecules latch onto genes or unhitch from them, directing many of the body’s crucial activities. The single most important process orchestrated by epigenetic notations is the stupendously complex unfurling of the fetus. This extra-genetic music is written, in part, by life itself. Epigenetically influenced traits, such as mental functioning and body size, are affected by the food we eat, the cigarettes we smoke, the toxins we ingest—and, of course, our age. Sociologists have devoted many man-hours to demonstrating that older parents are richer, smarter, and more loving, on the whole, than younger ones. And yet the tragic irony of epigenetics is that the same wised-up, more mature parents have had longer to absorb air-borne pollution, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and herbicides. They may have endured more stress, be it from poverty or overwork or lack of social status. All those assaults on the cells that make sperm DNA can add epimutations to regular mutations.
At the center of research on older fathers, genetics, and neurological dysfunctions is Avi Reichenberg, a tall, wiry psychiatrist from King’s College in London. He jumps up a lot as he talks, and he has an ironic awareness of how nervous his w

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