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The Idiotic Controversy Over GMail
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Kenny recently hooked me up with a trial account for GMail, Google's new web-based mail service. And it's pretty damned cool. You get 1 freakin' gigabyte of storage space, and instead of filing messages, they all go in one big searchable mail archive.

So what's not to like?

Well, paranoia is one of our most enduring traits, so of course people who don't know the first damn thing about how a technology works are screaming about privacy issues. See, GMail bots scan your messages so that they can tailor text ads aimed specifically to you, the user. Sounds incredibly sinister, don't it?

Here's an article from Slate doing a reasonable job of debunking the controversy.

If you haven't tried it, it sounds creepy. But after a week of testing the prerelease version of Gmail, I'm on the other side of the fence. Gmail isn't an invasion of privacy, and its ads are preferable to the giant blinking banners for diets and dating services that are splashed across my other Web mail accounts.


Most important, Gmail critics have ignored the fact that automated software already scans the contents of your incoming e-mail messages. Antispam and antivirus software at most ISPs and corporate firewalls comb through the personal contents of your e-mail all the time. Gmail is just a little more upfront about it.

Actually, they're a lot more upfront about it. Most people are staggeringly ignorant about the fact that pretty much all their e-mail is automatically scanned in one way or another. Or that cookies are tracking their web habits, and that sites like Amazon automatically note your shopping habits to target you with tailored suggestions.

The author has a technical solution to allay the fears of the overly-paranoid:

Luckily, there's a better option. Ten years ago, the privacy objections of people who didn't want their Web sites crawled by search engines were put to rest with a simple fix: Webmasters could place a file named robots.txt on their sites as a "No Trespassing" marker, a sign that they didn't want their site to be searched. Google needs to offer a robots.txt for e-mail, some kind of tag that any Web user can include in a message to indicate that it shouldn't be scanned by Gmail software.

He also suggests giving less storage space to those who want to opt out of the scannable mail feature.

But here's an even simpler solution: If you're worried about privacy issues related to GMail, don't use the service, ya moron.

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