Gmail too creepy?
I recently did a Review of Gmail and also mentioned that some folks are very worried about the privacy concerns associated with Google storing their mail. The obvious retort to that is "don't use Gmail", but it goes farther than that, because people are worried about Google storing email SENT to Gmail accounts. The folks at http://gmail-is-too-creepy.com/ raise questions like:
How about words such as "box cutters" in the same email as "airline schedules"? Can you think of anyone who might be interested in obtaining a list of email addresses for that particular combination?
They recommend blocking all mail originating from gmail.com. That's only political protest, though: it can't stop your email conversations from ending up in Gmail's data bases. If you mail to me at my regular address, it can redirect to gmail. I can send to you from a non-gmail address and bcc my gmail account. Our entire conversation ends up in gmail, just as it would if you were not blocking.
If you really are concerned about corporate storage of your email, you need to block more than Gmail: the very same issues exist with Yahoo mail, AOL and MSN mail and a host of others. Also, many institutions now have legal requirements to archive ALL email they send and receive.
Interestingly, one of the concerns voiced by the Gmail-is-too-creepy folks is that Google's contextual ad matching doesn't always work very well. I don't follow this argument. If anything, this shows the silliness of worrying about email data-mining for nefarious means: it's often difficult for a human being to reach accurate conclusions from reading someone else's writings; electronic pattern matching isn't all that useful anyways.
Of course, the day may come when some government body can analyze my email and decide that I am a risk to the State. Well, heck, they don't need Gmail for that. Wherever my email lives, it can be tracked down, resurrected from backup, extracted real time, etc. And if you are one of my correspondents, your email would be filtered and scanned too. Better protect yourself right now: send me email lambasting me for belonging to the ACLU and for voting for liberal candidates. But there's no increased risk to either of us because of Gmail.
On a less sinister note, advertiser mining of email databases certainly could be a source of privacy abuse. But again, there's nothing special about Gmail in that regard: Yahoo and MSN could sell you out just as easily as Gmail could. The Gmail-is-too-creepy people say that current law doesn't protect us - if so, it doesn't protect us from AOL or Hotmail or anyone else.
If you think I'm missing something, please do let me know. The "Add comment" link is right below this.
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