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Can you trust Amazon's WorkMail?

Evan Schuman | Feb. 4, 2015
The company is being coy about what it can do with your enterprise’s email if you sign up for its cloud-based service.

Not to belabor the obvious, but if Amazon can hand over your emails to law enforcement, then it has access to your email. When I pointed this out, the spokesperson said he would get back to me. That was four days ago (two working days), and I'm still waiting.

As for that privacy policy that Amazon says will cover WorkMail -- the full text can be found here -- this line offers very little comfort for IT: "Information gathered by AWS may be correlated with any personally identifiable information that has and used by AWS and to improve the services we offer." And it also refers people to an even broader Amazon policy, which also offers no comfort to the privacy- and security-concerned. 

Privacy policies are supposed to assure customers what the vendor won't do -- or at least what the vendor is willing to promise that it won't do -- but more often than not they fall short of that. To get companies comfortable with the idea of Amazon controlling their email, Amazon, which has made an art of turning data analytics into actionable information, needs to say as clearly as possible that it will not now or at anytime in the future look at those companies' messages or have software do any analysis of them at all. Even counting up the number of times specific words are used would be banned.  

But from what I was able to gather from my discussions with Amazon's people, the company is trying to get the best of both worlds. It wants to assure potential customers that their data won't be accessible by itself or law enforcement, but it wants to leave the door ajar so that it can turn around and access those emails -- while being able to say, "We never said we didn't have access."

Amazon's WorkMail offering is still in beta-testing so there is still a chance for Amazon to change the rules before it completes its rollout. I hope it does. However, since Amazon is now publicly inviting companies to join the testing, these appear to be the rules of that trial. 

The cleverness of what Apple and Google have done is to avoid temptation, not to mention getting themselves out from between law enforcement and their customers. If the data resides in a vendor's server farm and can be accessed by its employees, sooner or later, someone will contrive a legitimate-sounding reason to run some analytics. One query begets more queries. 

The reasons why e-commerce company extraordinaire Amazon wants to get into email messages are few. But its silence on its plans for that data sends a very loud message on its own.


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