After Tuesday’s revelatory story by Reuters’ Joseph Menn that exposed an apparent vast, secret, government-ordered email surveillance program at Yahoo, the company has issued a brief statement through Joele Frank, a public relations firm.
From Jacob Silber of Joele Frank, via email:
Good morning –
We are reaching out on behalf of Yahoo regarding yesterday’s Reuters article. Yahoo said in a statement:
“The article is misleading. We narrowly interpret every government request for user data to minimize disclosure. The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems.”
The Joele Frank Team
This is an extremely carefully worded statement, arriving roughly 20 hours after the Reuters story first broke. That’s a long time to craft 29 words. It’s unclear as well why Yahoo wouldn’t have put this statement out on Tuesday, rather than responding, cryptically, that they are “a law abiding company, [that] complies with the laws of the United States.”
But this day-after denial isn’t even really a denial: The statement says only that the article is misleading, not false. It denies only that such an email scanning program “does not” exist—perhaps it did exist at some point between its reported inception in 2015 and today. It also pins quite a bit on the word “described”—perhaps the Reuters report was overall accurate, but missed a few details. And it would mean a lot more for this denial to come straight from the keyboard of a named executive at Yahoo—perhaps Ron Bell, the company’s general counsel—rather than a “strategic communications firm.”
You should probably still delete your Yahoo account.
The statement was met with skepticism by some privacy experts and reporters:
So, um, Yahoo denies having (but not *having had*) a system like the one described in the Reuters article. pic.twitter.com/qwyPAhrz7J
— Eric Geller (@ericgeller) October 5, 2016
— Christopher Soghoian (@csoghoian) October 5, 2016
— Matthew Green (@matthew_d_green) October 5, 2016
— Cyrus Farivar (@cfarivar) October 5, 2016
“Does not exist on our systems” sounds a hell of a lot like “currently under this program.” DID it exist? Does it exist somewhere else?
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) October 5, 2016