Gmail and Other Delights

BBC: Gmail, the planned free e-mail service from Google, could be facing strong legal opposition in California. A draft law is being drawn up by local Democratic Senator Liz Figueroa, who calls Gmail “an invasion of privacy”.

What? Are you freaking kidding me? Legislation? Don’t you have anything better to do?

Wired: “We think it’s an absolute invasion of privacy. It’s like having a massive billboard in the middle of your home,” said Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont). “We are asking them to rethink the whole product.” Nothing like overstating things, eh, senator? Absolute invasion? Rethink the whole product? Come on!

Charles Cooper writes: This is the kind of technology advance that gives me the creeps.

Here are my feelings on Gmail. Take them or leave them.

1) Google is expanding, like it or not. I like it. I think it’s a good company that does good things. Are they entirely benevolent? Of course not. They have to make money somehow.

2) Google is really, really good at doing targeted ads, specifically non-obnoxious text ads. I don’t think that’s even up for discussion. So it makes sense that they would build on this strength.

3) They’re offering you a full gigabyte of storage. That’s a lot of email. I’m an email whore. I save every message I’ve ever sent or received in the last seven or eight years. I have about 300 megabytes of mail, less than a third of the storage that Google is offering.

4) You don’t have to sign up for it. Sure, if you do, your mail will be indexed and scanned for the purposes of presenting you with targeted ads. But you would have agreed to these terms in the process of signing up!

5) It’s not like there’s a group of people reading your mail. It’s not like John Ashcroft is scanning your messages. It’s all done by machine. Nobody’s invading your privacy.

6) Privacy is basically a myth anyway. Look, I have a four year old daughter. I forget what privacy is. No, seriously, anyone who is serious about privacy and security should know that email, by its very nature, is inherently unsecure and public in nature. Any script kiddie with a packet sniffer can read your email, folks, and that includes your account information and password. It’s not even a challenge.

7) The common retort I’ve seen can be summed up thusly: “Fine, don’t use it yourself, but remember not to send email to anyone using it, because now your mail is being scanned, too!” Two words: big whoop. I understand that email isn’t secure anyway. If I wanted it to be secure, I’d use PGP or GPG or PCP or something like that. Well, maybe not PCP, but hopefully you get the idea.

8) The only useful criticism of Gmail that I’ve read recently came from Mark Pilgrim, and it was all about accessibility. In another post, Mark writes about why he won’t be using Gmail: And not because of the much-discussed—and mostly specious—privacy concerns. The day I signed my mortgage contract was the day They broke my spirit of any absolutist privacy fantasies I might have had growing up. Sure, privacy is important, but not enough to live in a cave with no credit cards.

9) If you think Hotmail and Yahoo! and whatnot aren’t scanning your messages, I have some real estate to sell you. Come on, I mean, really.

10) A ton of people will use it anyway, because they don’t care about privacy and such. And just like Hotmail, it will be very difficult to avoid coming into contact with a Gmail user. Like it or not, it’s going to be a big hit.

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