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April 13, 2004


First, Brandon articulates how many of us feel:

"In any case, I would think that most of these issues come down to trust: do you trust Google or not? Has Google ever done anything that made you not trust them? Do you believe the Google "do no evil"? As someone on the inside who's seen the code and heard the open discussions amoung the employees, I do. But don't take my word for it, look at our record and make your own decision."
Then, Owen from the Business 2.0 blog proposes something startling:
"Alarmed by the privacy implications of having ads automatically served up by software programs alongside your email? Here's a wild idea: Don't use it."
I would add, "until you've given it a test drive first." Owen was responding to this article from The Telegraph which has quite a few gems, like:
"Gmail users who discuss their ailments, for instance, may find themselves bombarded with promotions from drug manufacturers. Google makes revenue from the advertisers."
Take a look at this screenshot from my Gmail inbox, from the latest 12-inch Powerbook digest:
I'm certainly not feeling bombarded by those subtle, clearly-marked, relevant ads along the right, are you? And what about the Yahoo Groups ads embedded in the actual email? Yuck!

While copying and pasting from this Telegraph article, I happened to mouse over the ugly, irrelevant banner ad at the top when I was bombarded by this monstrosity:

ugly banner ad
I had no idea this would happen, the ad is now taking up more than half my screen, and it's entirely unrelated to the content on the page. It's trying to deceive me into clicking, but I just want it to go away! Let's continue:
"California senator Liz Figueroa, who was behind the successful Do Not Call legislation that hampered telephone marketers, called Gmail 'an invasion of privacy.' She is drawing up a law that could block the scheme or force Google to overhaul its offering. 'We are asking them to rethink the whole product. It's like having a massive billboard in the middle of your home,' she said.
I don't know about you, but the Sponsored Links in my screenshot don't look like a massive billboard to me. In fact, they're actually helpful. The hideous, unexpected ad on the Telegraph's site, on the other hand, is most definitely a billboard: big, obnoxious and distracting. Yahoo's sites and Microsoft's Hotmail are (mostly) billboards, imho. Your television is a massive billboard. AdWords are not. We continue:
"Michael Allison, of the Internet Crimes Group in New Jersey, said: 'Google could create a potential monster - people with wicked ways could use it for everything from extortion to harassment.'"
Isn't this true of just about everything ever invented? Well, maybe not Q-tips, but you get my point. More:
"Internet aficionados seem split between those who compare Gmail to the postman opening up private mail and those who think individuals should be left to choose whether to sign up or not."
Email in Google's Gmail isn't read by humans- it's read by software algorithms, just like spam filters and spellcheckers. And unless email is encrypted, it's essentially like sending postcards.

My advice: Read about Gmail from people who've actually used it, including those who (rightfully) criticize it. Try it out once it's been released, then make an educated decision based on your own knowledge and experience. I've been using it for a long time, and I think it's one of the most revolutionary email applications ever created. And it's still in beta!

Further reading:

* Standard disclaimers apply: all this is my own personal opinion, yadda yadda

Posted at 21:44
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Tracked: April 14, 2004 09:07 PM