Ken's Voyages Around the Sun

For Brainsalad
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Many people have recently commented on G-mail privacy or lack thereof. This includes Brainsalad, who left a comment on my previous journal entry. It also includes some people on a mailing list for CSU techies.

To the latter I sent the response below; Kenny (from Google) later informed me that the one person who has raised a lot of these concerns has made a career out of bashing Google. I didn't know that when writing this and feel vindicated accordingly.


Yes, a lot of articles have appeared [with regard to] privacy issues and G-mail. This topic could evolve into a long discussion on the CATS forum, which is probably not the best place for it, but a couple things are worth addressing:

1) G-mail's policy mentions that "residual copies of email may remain on our systems, even after you have deleted them from your mailbox or after the termination of your account," but they don't say they deliberately keep messages around in order to do anything with them. If you delete a message in a Yahoo! mail account, do you expect that it's immediately overwritten multiple times with a scrambler so that it's truly unrecoverable? If not, then it's just as residual. Google's no different in this respect; delete any file on any system and it's still residual. They also say "may" rather than "is" so I don't see the problem here.

2) Anyone who uses a credit card, electronic banking, etc., etc., has got to be out of their mind if they think they have much "privacy". Why is G-mail any different than other free commercial services that store one's mail? Do you know that Yahoo! and MSFT don't read it or try to automatically link items within their systems to your usage patterns, preferences, or ad clicks? If Google links your web search terms to your e-mail messages to boost their ads' applicability, then they're only being helpful by pointing you to things you might want to see. At least you don't see ads that you most likely *don't* want to see as on current free mail providers.

3) Not sure what you mean about the labs scenario above. If the lab machines are allowed to store cookies, then various sites are already collecting information about who's using the computer and for what. G-mail has a sign in / sign out process like any other personalized site, and one is always free to click the clear cookies button (not that many people know about that or understand the implications) but how is G-mail's use of cookies any worse than any other site's? People who use a lab computer to access their "my" pages on Amazon, Yahoo!, Netflix, or any number of other sites, then fail to sign out, are easily helping others into their private areas.

And lastly... if you're worried about "privacy", just don't use G-mail. At least for the beta test, they required no personally identifying information: no address, no phone number, no SSN, nothing to prove the name you enter is even yours. My free Yahoo! account knows a lot more about me than G-mail does, because they require all this other information, and even a birthday. Obviously this could all be made up, but G-mail doesn't even offer a place to enter it voluntarily.



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