Google GMail - A Question of Privacy

Google GMail - A Question of Privacy
On April 1st, in what at first appeared to be an April Fools joke, Google announced their newest on-line service called GMail. GMail is a free email service that will be offering an impressive 1GB of free storage. Sound like there's a catch? If you subscribe to GMail you will be allowing Google to scan your mail to create keywords, and to use those keywords to display content sensitive ads alongside your mail. To some people this is a big catch, and the GMail announcement has created a flurry of controversy as to whether this technology is an invasion of privacy.

The Service

First of all I have to say that GMail will have allot of nice features. With the 1GB of storage you will never have to delete email and you can keep it all in one place. Google's famous search capabilities will allow you to search you mail, which will eliminate the need for organizing your mail. When the message is found it will be displayed along with any other messages that are attached to it. There will be no banners or pop-up ads, which is a very attractive thing. All ads will be text based and tailored to the content of the email, which is a very controversial thing. Images will not be displayed, reducing the chance of the user inheriting tracking software, Web beacons or clear GIFs, that can be buried in images. GMail will also provide for filtering of mail and will have a spam blocker. Overall it looks really great, but there are many who are opposed to the fact that Google will be using it's AdSense technology to scan the mail messages.


AdSense is a "spider" software, and what it basically does is scan the content of a web page and create keywords to define that web page. It then goes to Google's store of advertisers, selects the most relevant advertising and displays it on the web page. This technology is nothing new, most web sites have this kind autonomous program to display advertising. The idea of using this technology to scan personal email is what has sparked the controversy.

Pros and Cons

Google has only released GMail to 1000 users in a limited 3 to 6 month test period, and as their spokesman David Krane says:

"We are in the very earliest phases of testing, and we are actively soliciting and analyzing feedback from users and third parties, including privacy groups. We're definitely batting about a number of options for changes to the service, but we have not yet made any specific commitments or announcements about changes to come to Gmail."

There has been allot of feedback already, web sites, blogs, articles and forums are all over the web. Senator Liz Figereroa from California has already drafted legislation to prevent any examination of email in order to serve up ads, and privacy groups in the United Kingdom are pressing the information commissioner to take action. On the other side some people welcome the fact that they won't have to put up with banners and pop-ups, and they won't have to view email about upgrading their service. It is said that Google is not asking anymore than other web sites who have you fill out a form to receive their services, but to this I say that there is a big difference between consciously filling out a form and a software that scans you mail. However, considering that Google is a business, I feel there is little chance that GMail will be offered without some form of the AdSense technology.

A Commentary

Whether or not GMail is actually anymore intrusive on our privacy than a web site that uses cookies, or any other internet technology that gathers information, is not the most import issue. Whether we should actually say it's OK to scan our mail is the problem that I have. The simple answer is not to use the service if you're not comfortable with it, but I believe there is also a principle here that needs to be upheld. The choice will probably lie with the individual, and in that case I say "Buyer Be Aware", make the choice but be sure you know what you're choosing. For myself, I don't feel comfortable with the idea, I think I'll stay with what I have.

Till Next Time,
Ann LaBonte
Shareware & Freeware Host

Stop By the Forum! Let me know what you think about GMail.
CNet® has more articles than you're probably going to have time to read.
Rolls Out Free E-Mail - Like Google's new service, Spymac is offering 1GB of storage.
GMail® - This is Google's GMail information page.


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