Yes, Google’s $625 million deal for spam-fighter Postini adds another business application to its portfolio. But when I heard about it, I thought only one thing: Our bosses will gain an ever more powerful tool to search and analyze our e-mails and messages.
Postini focuses on security risks in corporate messaging. That includes spam, naturally. But it also includes us. Workers threaten their companies, often unwittingly, by swapping trade secrets, inside information, sexually-charged messages. This creates a growth market for Postini. Using spam-blocking technology, it can also scan messages for key words, phrases, or suspicious patterns. What’s more, it helps its customers organize their archives of messages so that they can comply with ever tougher securities regulations. If a company is under legal or regulatory scrutiny, it must retrieve relevant e-mails and messages quickly.
This is all to say that our e-mail at work is under ever greater surveillance. As Google storms into the market, more managers will be able to search employees e-mail the way they now search the Web. Imagine being able to call up every e-mail in the enterprise over the last month, for example, that mentions a key competitor and an upcoming product or service. Want to see it as it’s happening? Sign up for an alert for certain keywords. It doesn’t have to stop there. Once these data are searchable, it will become ever easier for managers to apply advanced analytics to corporate messaging. They’ll be able mine these data for the latest trends of words and subjects that employees are writing about. Mapping the social networks inside and outside the company will be a cinch. And as automatic reading programs improve, companies will also be able to track the rising and falling sentiments of their work force.
Companies own our e-mail. With Google’s purchase of Postini, they’ll be in a stronger position to take control of it.