A FAILED turnaround and then, last month, the biggest data breach from a single site in history. Yahoo, an online firm, has had a bad run of news. On October 4th came a fresh blow when Reuters, a newswire, reported that the company had written customised software to scan all incoming e-mail for certain keywords, complying with a request either from America’s National Security Agency or the FBI.

The company’s first response was to say that it is a law-abiding company. It later issued a statement saying that the Reuters article was “misleading” and that the “mail scanning” the article described “does not exist on our systems”. But that is only a partial denial, and does not rule out the possibility that Yahoo did some kind of scanning. According to Reuters, Yahoo’s chief information-security officer, Alex Stamos, left Yahoo in 2015 because of a decision by Marissa Mayer, its chief executive, to obey an order from a government agency. (He now does the same job at Facebook.)

Even the possibility of a real-time wiretap raises important questions. If the government has demanded such bulk scanning it may represent an expansion...Continue reading