GMail Roundup: “The Creeps”

The meme most media outlets have given to their second day coverage of Gmail is that it gives folks "the creeps." In essence, the idea that machines will be reading folks' email freaks a lot of observers out. Privacy advocates are connecting the dots on mailing lists like Farber's IP,…

gmail_logoThe meme most media outlets have given to their second day coverage of Gmail is that it gives folks “the creeps.” In essence, the idea that machines will be reading folks’ email freaks a lot of observers out. Privacy advocates are connecting the dots on mailing lists like Farber’s IP, and Cnet, the LA Times, and Wired News have written stories turning on this angle.

I think the jury is out on this issue. If people willingly give up their privacy to get a gig of storage and the ability to search their email (email search is one of the biggest search hairballs out there, IMHO), who’s to say that’s wrong? On the other hand, this does create a lot of potential for trouble, given how much information can now be connected. If you get on the wrong side of the government, for example, and use GMail and Google search (and Orkut…), you had better hope the Patriot Act has been repealed. But this is true if you’re using Yahoo, AOL, or MSFT as well. All these companies would have to give up your personal information to a government demand. It’s just that with Google, the power of that information working together is so obvious, and is, in a way, made available to you via a business model which – thanks to contextual advertising – makes it economical for you to have a gig of storage and a whole new interface to mail (search). Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. But I do think it’d be very wise for Google to lay out a white paper explaining all of this in intricate detail, a link to which is prominently displayed to all Gmail users.

Trust me, Google may be the first company to show the general public the power of personal information leveraged against search, but they won’t be the last. Think about Amazon for a microsecond…

Of note:

Phillip points to a GMail screenshot. He also rebuts the privacy issues in this post.

10 thoughts on “GMail Roundup: “The Creeps””

  1. Hey, John:

    I work over at TechTV, and I was the one who pointed our reporter in your direction yesterday. Thanks so much for being willing to talk with us.


  2. I hope they have excellent spam filtering — otherwise the contextual ads that they infer you are interested in are going to be … spam ads!

    Any competition in the “free” email space would be an improvement but I’d like to see them doing something new besides disk space. Like POP support (with ads) or a personal digest of your daily email to forward to another email account for people who don’t check frequently otherwise. There was some study a while back (can’t find the link) indicating that the average person has 3 email addresses. The study methodology sounded a bit sketchy and that number seems high to me but anything that helps you aggregate email is attractive.

  3. These people who are so freaked out about privacy issues – are these the same people who keep sending me email about how much they hate their jobs, boss, and coworkers … using their work addy?

  4. How would you feel receiving emails containing context-relevant adverts? I thought about this for a while and then realized that the only adverts I resent are the ones that don’t interest me. I generally welcome those that do and have often found products and services I really appreciate through them. So if you are in the habit of sending me emails, please do so from a G-Mail account! If/when it really exists.

  5. Yes, it will be a big step towards integrating all these digital breadcrumbs of us in the hands of one company (and if they tie Orkut in, than it’s not just digital any more), but people will be willing to do that as long as they are presented with a TOS that explains what Google does and what it doesn’t do with all this info. As for the government tapping into it… they can do that today, they just need to call a couple of separate companies to get all the info on a person. Of course, being a European citizen i am probably less freaked out by this topic (we don’t have a Patriot act…).

    Spam filtering… the FAQ says it will be coupled with spam reporting – sending spam to Google spamcops who will hopefully actually do something about it. It is an interesting thought… with a central spam repository finally Google will be able to actually tie together mail and web spamming. They can take the info from email spam and rid the Google index of the same spammers’ web material.

  6. Barnaby James: They’re planning to provide POP3 access, maybe for a fee, and it won’t be available right away, but at least they’re aware of the need.

    Also regarding the privacy issues, from what I’ve read they’re not, as many articles have claimed, attaching text to your outgoing e-mail (which is what Yahoo Mail does). They are displaying text ads based on the the content of the e-mail that you’re reading using the same technology as that which places ads on thousands of sites that are making money from Google Ads.

    Plus, there are no banner ads (which Yahoo Mail has, along with Flash advertisements). That alone is reason enough for me to switch to GMail.

    From their FAQ:

    There are no pop-ups or banner ads in Gmail. Gmail does include relevant text ads that are similar to the ads appearing on the right side of Google search results pages. The matching of ads to content is a completely automated process performed by computers using the same technology that powers the Google AdSense program. This technology already places targeted ads on thousands of sites across the web by quickly analyzing the content of pages and determining which ads are most relevant to them. No humans read your email to target the ads, and no email content or other personally identifiable information is ever provided to advertisers.

  7. >If people willingly give up their privacy to get a gig of storage and the ability to search their email

    I hate to sound like a card-carrying member of the tin-foil beanie brigade, but we all willingly gave up our privacy a long time ago when we got a social security card, a driver’s license, a credit card or bought a house.

    Personally I’m not worried about prying eyes reading my email. Most of it isn’t even that interesting, even to me.

    If you were really worried about the privacy of your email you, and everyone you communicate with, would use PGP for greater security.

  8. Like the Google sponsored links, they are being upfront about it – if you accept those terms – fine – if not, you do not need to sign up for gmail.

    Just like the sponsored links, I don’t mind that in trade for a great FREE search engine, they clearly list the paid links and highlighted in color (unlike MSN or Yahoo) that I can or do not choose to click on – exact same thing for the email servcice.

    What I do not accept are places that put a cookie link for EACH page I visit without telling me or places that ask for my phone number if I buy a pair of socks.

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