The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Saturday, 17 April 2004]

Tim O’Reilly on the fuss about Gmail and privacy

Great article by Tim O’Reilly about why the knee-jerk privacy concerns about Google’s Gmail service miss the point.

It’s continually surprising how many people don’t realize just how inherently insecure email is. Your words travel around the Internet, bouncing from computer to computer, and could be read at any point around the way. The only way to secure your words is through encryption, which is still too difficult for the non-technical user to implement. As a case in point, my service provider Cox forces me to route all outgoing mail through their SMTP server as a part of their efforts to reduce spam coming from Cox’s customers. Which is all fine and good if a bit annoying when I take my laptop somewhere else and have to change the SMTP settings. But this also means that somebody inside Cox could read all my outgoing email. Not being of the tin-foil hat persuasion, I don’t believe this is happening, but it certainly could. Putting in a piece of software to scan all outgoing email for certain key phrases is utterly trivial.

The thing that really seems to make some people uncomfortable is that Google scans each email in order to provide relevant ads. How is that different from what a spam filter or a virus scanner does, apart from a slightly different focus? Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail could bolt on the exact same concepts to their webmail engines, except of course that they don’t have a search engine as good as Google’s.

But the bigger issue here is privacy in general. At this point in time, your privacy is gone, and will not return unless people start voting with their pocketbooks by supporting companies that take privacy seriously.

So far, Google has done a good job of this.

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