I have a Yahoo email account. The other day I went to sign in and received a pop-up notifying me that the privacy policy had changed. Like most folks, I rarely read the fine print with these things. But this time I decided to click through.

I learned a few things. First, I didn’t know that Yahoo is one of several companies owned by Oath. (Others include Verizon, Tumblr, AOL, and HuffPost.)

I also learned that they’re reading my mail. “Oath analyzes and stores all communications content, including email content from incoming and outgoing mail. This allows us to deliver, personalize and develop relevant features, content, advertising and Services.” Link

This isn’t abnormal, lots of companies do this. Facebook and Google both do. When an internet company offers your a free service, they still get something valuable from you: your information. That’s the commodity that you trade in exchange for using their service.

One of the more striking things about my experience with Yahoo was the lack of options. The pop-up displaying the new privacy policy didn’t have a “reject” option. You could “accept” or “decide later.” That’s it.

This highlights something important. Consumers can’t use these tools without accepting the terms set by the company. Since they are offering you something free, they get to set the terms. If you don’t like them, then you can kindly move along.

This puts us in a bind. A lot of free internet tools have become integrated into our social lives. Unless you’ve got an account with X, you’re going to miss out on cool stuff. But then our access to this cool stuff is mediated by a company that is profiting off our interactions.

So we face a dilemma. Either stop using these tools, or get used to our information being gathered and sold.

As for me, ProtonMail is looking pretty good right now.