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Rich Tehrani

[April 5, 2003]

Google Gmail Vs. Hysterical Privacy Lunatics



What on earth is everyone freaking out about? The LA Times recently wrote an article (registration required) that quoted a host of privacy advocates who are frankly making ridiculous claims. Here is a direct quote:

"The privacy implications of going through and perusing a customer's e-mail to display targeted advertising could be the Achilles' heel for Google's services," said Jordana Beebe, the communications director for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer group in San Diego.

I don�t know Jordana Bebe. She may the smartest human being on the planet, but this statement makes no sense to me. What is wrong with having a computer scan my e-mail to target advertising effectively? I am pretty fed up with ads that are untargeted. I am married and don�t need to see ads about meeting others from Lava Life. I don�t need a new Motorola phone and I am not going to use that free lobster dinner coupon from Red Lobster (perhaps you can strike that last one. I am a big fan of lobster and Atkins menu options are pretty limited.) These are all ads I see right now when I log into my Hotmail account. I wouldn�t mind more targeted ads� In fact, I would prefer it!

Google�s new Gmail service is a great win for users and the privacy advocates are going ballistic. They are mostly nuts. Here�s why. We allow search engines to monitor our surfing habits, displaying ads on our search terms and even on the pages we view. We already allow companies like Google to store our personal information such as name, address and credit card number using the AutoFill feature on the Google Toolbar. The Yahoo Toolbar allows you to store your favorite Web sites. What is scary about Yahoo is that they can easily piece together your whole life. They have access to the stocks you track and the ones you own. They also store your e-mail. They can see which radio stations you listen to, when you are looking for a car and when you are looking for a new job and the type of job that interests you. It gets worse. Using their People Search function, they can generate your social circle if desired. Is that not bad enough for you? They are aware of any time you travel to a new destination using their mapping service. Still not concerned? They have access to many of your most crucial files through their briefcase feature; they can see what companies you contact through their Yellow Pages feature. They can inspect what you buy via their shopping service. They are aware of when you are house shopping as well as your interests via Yahoo Groups. They can see if you are researching illnesses that you or someone you know has. They can see when you are lonely and looking for a soul mate via their Personals portal. They may even have access to your sexual orientation, intimate preferences and fantasies via this last feature!

Dear privacy advocates,

You are all nuts!

Rich Tehrani

You are telling me that Yahoo and similarly MSN and AOL are wonderful and Google is doing something bad? Why? Because they will scan your e-mails electronically and (hopefully) target ads more effectively?

Some privacy advocates point out correctly that Google has not ruled out linking e-mail and search together and subsequently allowing Google to build a personal profile about you. Certainly the linking of disparate services is an issue whenever a company has strength in multiple areas of Web services, but isn't Google a much smaller privacy threat than all of its competitors? I think so.

Either way, you don�t ever have to give Google your personal information if you don�t want to. If they force you to enter a mailing address or your real name just use a fake one. There, was that so difficult?

I tell you, Google is doing a great job with this service for this reason alone: you will be able to send 10 megabyte attachments and store a gigabyte of information. This means many of you will no longer have to rely on FTP to send large files. This alone makes this service very valuable to me and I want to thank Google for a job well done.

For more information on Google, please see my previous article, titled Google�s Fatal Flaw?

Please talk back to me in our forums

Rich Tehrani is TMC's president. He welcomes your comments. Participate in our forums.

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