Weblogs: Spam

Gmail and Privacy Protection

Thursday, April 08, 2004

I am more and more convinced that April Fools is no longer restricted to the first day in April. Although Google released a beta version of GMail on that day, it was seen as an April prank, Google is quite serious about it. Considering its expected functionality it looks to be a world beater.

Google and Chandler

Merging the email domain with Google's search technology solves part of the problem of email overload. They are almost taking a leaf out of Chandler's book by implementing views on on mailbox instead of the folder based approach. What Chandler can't deliver is a Google-capable search - and that one piece of functionality is worth shed-loads for people following multiple mailing lists.

The Google email package

Google are offering the combination of Google search and email, plus a one gigabyte storage. The cost - free, but they will display text adverts in the Google Ad-words tradition.

These adverts are based on the contents of the email you are viewing. Google have trialled this approach with Google AdSense - a method of buying advert space on websites. These Google-based adverts are based on keywords found in the page they are being displayed on. So people see adverts based on the same topics or keywords as the content. Very effective means of targetting the right audience.

Applying this to email makes sense in a number of context. As a participant of technical mailing lists, the combination of search for the price of content-based text adverts is an amazing bargain.


Twenty-eight privacy groups - the timeless April Fools - have written an open letter to Google demanding the removal of content based text-adverts. This is under the misleading pretence of protecting my privacy.

Google have made it clear that, like Google News, the content of the email is not seen by a human at Google. Its all done automatically away from human eyes.

As a result of these privacy groups, my chance to benefit from Google's services is now being delayed, perhaps prevented. We are on course to a ludicrous situation where I am being prevented from using Google's email service because some "privacy advocate" decides they have more right than me to decide whether Google can use my personal information.

What's equally bizarre is that none of these shenanigans are currently being raised against Hotmail and Yahoo mail. You'd think that an email service serving over 20 million people is a bigger risk to "privacy control" than a start-up web service that's asking for volunteers.

The solution

The solution is simple in the extreme. If you don't trust Google with your personal information, simply don't sign up and use their services. However, you have no right from preventing me from doing so - even in the name of my "privacy".

I admire Google as a company - its a company I would like to work for one day. I have previously, unsuccessfully, applied for a job with Google (thanks for the heads up Russ). I probably will reapply again in future.

I trust Google to do its best for its customers. Their past has shown their mettle and professionalism, and its a good sign about their future. I'm confident my details are safe and secure with Google.

If you disagree with Google's services and use of intelligent scripts - don't use their service. I will use their services - despite your objections - precisely because Google are offering a service that delivers what I need it to deliver.

Perhaps Google should offer a paid service - with an annual charge - that does away with the Google Ads in their email service. Privacy groups, how much is your privacy worth to you?

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