: views from the Hill

Monday, May 03, 2004


Signed up for Gmail not because I think I'll shift all my e-mail to it (I'm not too keen on having a stash of my e-mail somewhere where I don't control access) but more as a public reaction to do-gooder Liz Figueroa, a state senator from Fremont, who wants to ban Gmail because of privacy concerns: Google is SCANNING YOUR E-MAIL to decide what ads to display. HORRORS!

Well, if you don't want free e-mail with ads to offset the costs of a gig of mail storage, don't click "OK" after you've read all the disclaimers, don't use Gmail. If you don't want your e-mail scanned, don't send e-mail to people with gmail.com addresses, and let them know why.

Make Gmail's methods illegal? Ban it? What bee got into Figueroa's bonnet?

Figueroa's SB1822 specifically says, "A provider of e-mail or instant messaging services to California customers may review, examine, or otherwise evaluate the content of a customer's e-mail or instant messages if the provider has the consent of the customer, and reviews, examines or otherwise evaluates only the customer's original outgoing e-mail or instant messages with the consent of the customer. The provider may review, examine, or otherwise evaluate the content of incoming e-mail or instant messages only from another subscriber to the same service and only when that subscriber has consented to the procedure." Figueroa's bill excepts scanning for viruses or spam.

Is it me or does it seem weird to make it okay to scan and block spam, but heaven forefend Google scan to provide the advertising that pays for the free service.

Figueroa is concerned, she says, not for those chumps who knowingly sign up for the Gmail service but for those folks sending e-mail to those Gmail chumps, folks whose e-mail will be scanned without their explicit permission. Me, I'd assume anyone sending e-mail to a gmail.com address has given implicit consent to have that e-mail scanned. The sender would have to have the brains of a plank not to realize that Gmail is scanned so Google can add ads.

Figueroa probably doesn't realize that the sys admin of whatever service she uses can read her e-mail. Easy peasy. Say Figueroa uses a mail-forwarding service to forward mail from liz.figueroa -at- im-a-senator.com to her plain-jane earthlink address. Does she know how simple it is for the sys admin to set up forwarding so a copy also goes to the curious voyeur who likes to thumb through all mail coming into Figueroa's account?

Think your mail at work is secure? I've known of sys admins who got their jollies poking through the e-mail sent and received by people who used work e-mail for reasons that, let's say, were not work-related.

Think you're having a private discussion with a friend? Guess you can't see the BCC: to the circle of others when your so-called friend replies to you.

Don't put anything in e-mail you wouldn't want your worst enemy to see.

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