Through the grace of a friend of a friend, I am now a Gmail user. (Gmail is the 1-gigabyte web mail service from Google that has gotten a lot of press lately.) I am only posting the news here so I can also post my thoughts on the so-called “privacy issues” that people have raised regarding Gmail, especially the moronic state senator Liz Figueroa, who this past week introduced legislation to ban Gmail.
First of all, Google is very up front and direct about how Gmail works, what information they will have about you, and how they plan to use it. If you do not like the way Gmail works, you don’t have to sign up for it. Gmail is entirely opt-in. (Indeed, it’s currently hard to get the opportunity to opt in.)
Why a state senator feels the need to “protect” people from something they don’t have to sign up for is beyond me. More proof that politicians are publicity hounds first, uninformed technophobes second, and advocates for genuine public good dead last.
Some of us, dammit, want Gmail to do what it does: scan your e-mail to improve the quality and relevancy of ads served. Log on to Yahoo!’s or Hotmail’s web mail systems, and tell me you actually like the horrible Atkins and dating services ads they are serving up. Tell me that’s better than targeted ads that might actually be useful.
(Before you scoff about ads that are useful, read why I like Google’s ads. I’ve bought things from the ads placed on Google searches.)
The other response to these so-called privacy advocates is more technical. The concern is that Gmail will be scanning all incoming and outgoing e-mail. Well, so do all of the other web-based e-mail services. For that matter, so do most ISPs and corporations. They are scanning for viruses, worms, and spam, but they are scanning all your e-mail already.
As usual, Tim O’Reilly has a sane and forward-looking take on the whole issue. For my part, I’m happy to make the deal with Google, relevant ads for a great web mail service (and it is noticeably better than Yahoo!’s e-mail service, which I’ve used extensively for many years). My only real concern is, how do I get my archived e-mail (all 250,000 messages) into it?