Ken's Voyages Around the Sun

Letter to Senator Figueroa
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Today marks the first time I have ever written to a political leader.

The letter below is a response to Lawmaker moves to block Google's Gmail.



Senator Figueroa:

It seems unbelievable to me that you would sponsor legislation designed to limit Google in its offering of G-mail unless you misunderstand its premise and workings, its high value to people residing in California, or both.

As an employee of the California State University (Northridge) working in information technologies, I have recently seen strict limits placed on the amount of e-mail storage available to faculty, staff, and students. Faculty and staff receive 100 megabytes, while students may use up to 10 megabytes. Those limits force many to rely on free on-line services where they sacrifice significant screen space for time-wasting generic, glaring ads.

Why is it that Google -- a California-based company of excellent repute -- can make 1 gigabyte of space available for free to everyone one in the world, yet the State of California can allocate only a tiny fraction of this amount to its faculty, staff, and students? CSUN allows students a mere 1% of what G-mail offers -– and provides no search engine for finding and retrieving information stored in messages.

Once G-mail becomes available to the public, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that many people from CSUN will sign up for an account with Google as soon as possible. They will do this gladly and willingly, because the alternatives are unacceptable in comparison. Google’s search engine has earned the trust of so many people that it has become a verb. There is no reason to believe the company will betray that trust with their G-mail service.

While I applaud your concern with protecting people’s privacy, attacking the G-mail service is not a worthwhile endeavor in this respect, and shows that your concern has elevated to become misplaced alarm. Google requested absolutely no personal information when I obtained one of their new beta accounts, unlike Yahoo!, which demanded many more details of my background, financial situation, etc. I am not forced to use either Yahoo! or G-mail, however I choose to use the G-mail over others because its advertising scheme is not only pleasantly subtle, but potentially downright helpful.

No entirely voluntary service such as G-mail should warrant enough concern to be legislated. No one will be forced to use G-mail, and anyone who does can opt out at any time. Unfortunately G-mail’s initial privacy policy led to misunderstandings, for those not familiar with the fact that ALL computers keep residual copies of files on their hard disks for an indefinite amount of time. Now that Google has clarified their policies, there is even less reason for spending any further time, effort, or legislation on this matter.

Google does not have to stay in California. If the State does not make them feel welcome, then no doubt someone else will. Let Google get on with their business, and let California be known for supporting companies that provide services people crave. Let California also be known for its concern for its students, many of whom look to the State for assistance in studying technology, an area of concern to many.


Ken Stuart
Online Teaching Consultant
California State University, Northridge

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