Thursday, April 22, 2004

Gmail - Threat to the free world?

According to Wired magazine, a California state senator is drafting legislation to block Google's new email service, Gmail. Among the stupider things said by this politician, "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).

What exactly is the problem with Gmail? Google intends on analyzing your email and then show you a banner ad that is appropriate for that email. This is similar to the AdSense product that they currently use for web sites. They scan the contents of the page and then generate an ad appropriate for that page. Gmail will work exactly the same way. If someone sends you an email discussing their vacation in DisneyWorld, presumably Gmail will show an ad for vacation resorts.

Apparently, this has some people all upset because Google will be "reading" your mail in order to generate the ad. Well, I have a surprise for these people. Every email service "reads" your email in order to display it on the screen. Do you think Yahoo! closes their eyes when they pull your email up? It is true that they aren't reading it to generate a banner ad but so what? As long as Google isn't making my email visible to others who cares that they read it to generate a banner ad in addition to reading it to display it to me?

The worst part of this is that some politician in California thinks that she knows better than I do what level of privacy I want. If I am willing to let Google display targeted banner ads to me in exchange for a free email service then isn't that my business?

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