Anyone with a healthy dose of skepticism has been avoiding Google products for quite some time. And it's not that surprising to see a privacy advocate issue a news release like this: Google Tells Court You Cannot Expect Privacy When Sending Messages to Gmail -- People Who Care About Privacy Should Not Use Service, Consumer Watchdog Says. This admission from Google was supplied in a court filing in a class action suit alleging that Google violated wiretap laws by collecting information from emails sent to or from Gmail users. Via Naked Security.
Google defends their process by contending that their automated system of extracting email content in order to target ads at users is a common business practice which other free email services are doing and that they've disclosed all of this to their users, who, by the way, have consented to it.
The suit may get dragged out for a long time, or it could get dismissed by the judge, or maybe Google will end up settling it by agreeing to a few minor changes to their terms of privacy plus a few million dollars paid to the plaintiffs' attorneys.
But regardless of the outcome, there remains the issue of trust. Google doesn't say how long they store the emails, although we can hope that the duration is at least limited by the life of the equipment on which it is stored. Google's filing says they have 400 million Gmail users, and apparently those users are satisfied with it. But it's good bet that very few have actually read the agreement they accepted when they signed on. They merely accept whatever Google does in exchange for free email.
Privacy has been eroding for a long time, and in the last ten years that erosion has drastically accelerated. And recent disclosures tell us that our emails are legally available to government agencies. So there's another level of trust required if we are to believe that said agencies will not use the data to or detriment.
What should we do? There's a good article describing how to get Google out of your life -- see How I divorced Google. Some of the things he suggests are fairly common place, such as removing and blocking cookies and trackers. Others are more complicated, like redirecting hosts files.
As for search engines, the author suggests DuckDuckGo.com because they don't retain or forward any information about the user. I like the Netherlands based Ixquick.com because they say right up front that they won't comply with Prism.
But the most obvious suggestion is to simply avoid Google products.