In response, she provided a statement from a Yahoo! News vice president, which I'm quoting here under the belief that this constitutes fair use as editorial/public commentary.
Now my first thought was "nice way to get in a dig at Google." But more importantly, I was struck by a few facts.
If you read further into the TOS, you'd find large blocks of text they found so important they had to be done in ALL CAPS. These are the disclaimers. For example there's the one where Yahoo! and anyone remotely associated with Yahoo! "EXPRESSLY DISCLAIM ALL WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, WHETHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED".
Furthermore, they state they "MAKE NO WARRANTY THAT (i) THE SERVICE WILL MEET YOUR REQUIREMENTS; (ii) THE SERVICE WILL BE UNINTERRUPTED, TIMELY, SECURE OR ERROR-FREE".
And last, they state "NO ADVICE OR INFORMATION, WHETHER ORAL OR WRITTEN, OBTAINED BY YOU FROM YAHOO! OR THROUGH OR FROM THE SERVICE SHALL CREATE ANY WARRANTY NOT EXPRESSLY STATED IN THE TOS."
So not only do they claim there's no guarantee whatsoever that your mail will be secure, but that nothing this guy says can change that.
But just searching for keywords isn't a full read of the TOS, so I dug deeper and found this in section 6, where they define all "all information, data, text, software, music, sound, photographs, graphics, video, messages, tags, or other materials, whether publicly posted or privately transmitted," as "Content". Later in the section, they say they can access or share that "Content" if they believe "that such access preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to: (a) comply with legal process; (b) enforce the TOS; (c) respond to claims that any Content violates the rights of third parties; (d) respond to your requests for customer service; or (e) protect the rights, property or personal safety of Yahoo!, its users and the public."
Such a case might be where you "upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any Content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable." So, if Yahoo! believes you're talking trash about someone in your e-mails or being less than politically correct, their TOS allows them to read your mail "to investigate."
But that's not all...
What if I "upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any Content that infringes any patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright or other proprietary rights ("Rights") of any party"? Merely suspecting me of that to the extent that they need to "investigate," they can read my mail to see if I e-mailed someone a photo I shouldn't, even if said photo turns out to be a spicy personal photo... the kind Margo's reader was afraid that Yahoo! employees were viewing.
But probably the most important part of all is that he uses words like "will not" and "don't" in regards to them reading your mail, not "can't". He essentially acknowledges that they could read your mail and pretty much reserve the right to if they merely suspect you of something, but they resist the temptation. Yet he makes no mention of what rules and procedures are in place to ensure that temptation is resisted.
God told Adam and Eve "don't". How did that one work out? How many people follow every one of the Ten Commandments every second of every day? Actually, if you're very religious, there are 613 commandments. How many of those are you following? How many of those make sense? #185 is not to eat non-kosher maggots. First, that implies to me that there are kosher maggots, which is just gross. And second, no problemo... kosher or not, I doubt you'll find me eating maggots anytime soon.
But I don't want to get into a discussion of religion. I just wanted to point out that if people will break God's rules all the time, what's to stop them from breaking rules handed down by Yahoo! management? Even if Yahoo! has internal rules about this, the VP did not discuss what they do to ensure compliance, and he directed everyone to a TOS that says Yahoo! absolutely and in no uncertain terms will not guarantee that the rules will be followed. We just have to trust his assurances that other people will resist temptation.
So congrats to Yahoo! for being so good at doublespeak. And congrats to you, Margo Howard (daughter of the venerable Ann Landers), for surrendering any journalistic principles you may have had by not only letting your boss get away with doublespeak, but letting him use your column to disparage a competitor at the same time. In the words of your aunt (the venerable Abigail Van Buren of "Dear Abby" fame), "fifty lashes with a wet noodle" for you.