Tim O'Reilly on Gmail

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Didou

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The Fuss About Gmail and Privacy: Nine Reasons Why It's Bogus by Tim O'Reilly

1. There are already hundreds of millions of users of hosted mail services at AOL, Hotmail, MSN, and Yahoo! These services routinely scan all mail for viruses and spam. Despite the claims of critics, I don't see that the kind of automated text scanning that Google would need to do to insert context-sensitive ads is all that different from the kind of automated text scanning that is used to detect spam. (And in fact, those oppressed by spam should look forward to having Google's brilliant search experts tackle spam detection as part of their problem set!) Google doesn't have humans reading this mail; it has programs reading them. Yes, Google could instruct a program to mine the stored email for confidential information. But so could Yahoo! or AOL or MSN today. (Perhaps people feel Google is to be feared because they seem to so good at what they do. But that seems rather an odd point of view.)

2. For that matter, the very act of sending an email message consists of having a number of programs on different machines read and store your mail. Every time you send an email message, it is typically routed through a number of computers to get to its destination. Run the traceroute command at a command prompt on any Linux or UNIX system (including Mac OS X) or tracert on a Windows system to see the hops that your internet packets go through from your machine to any destination site. Anyone equipped with a packet sniffer at any of those sites can snoop any mail that they want. In fact, the NSA recently proved the effectiveness of this approach by tracking down terrorists by way of their mail traffic.

3. The amount of personal data already collected by credit agencies and direct marketers dwarfs what might be gleaned from email. There are folks right now, who know everything you've ever bought. Heck, just recently, I was shopping in Bath, England, and made a large purchase in an antiquarian bookshop. Fifteen minutes later, I was four buildings down the street in a second bookshop, tried to make another purchase, and had my card rejected. Meanwhile, back in California, my wife was receiving a call, wondering if the card had been stolen. "Why would someone halfway around the world be spending so much on books?" they wanted to know. That's real time monitoring! Privacy advocates (and as a former board member of the EFF I count myself among them) argue that privacy is a slippery slope. But we're already a long way down that slope, and I have a lot more trust in Google to do the right thing to protect my privacy than I have in credit card and direct marketing companies! I certainly don't see why Google is being singled out. There are so many bigger issues to worry about, from RFID tagging to surveillance cameras on London street corners, that programmed scanning of email for targeted ad insertion doesn't seem like too big a deal to me, especially when it's disclosed up front to participants in the service.

4. Gmail's offer of extended storage means that hosted email accounts might appeal to more than the casual home user, resulting in the storage of more mission-critical messages, but considering that many businesses are already hosting critical business data at outside service providers like salesforce.com, I hardly think that is a show stopper.

Read the rest HERE. A very good read.:)
 
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