Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Gmail is creepy? And your a bunch of tin foil hat wearing nut bars

I'm always hesitant to give credence to an article running around waving an "its evil" banner, they are too reminiscent of placard toting "end of the world is nigh" or Salem witch burners, neither being a particularly creditable group, as the world has neither ended, nor do witches weigh as much as ducks (re: Holy Grail.) I think the people of gmail-is-too-creepy.com are suffering more from disillusionment then paranoia,

"Google's policies are essentially no different than the policies of Microsoft, Yahoo, Alexa and Amazon. However, these others have been spelling out their nasty policies in detail for years now."

So does gmail-is-too-creepy.com also not reply to mails from Hotmail and Yahoo? Does hotmail-is-too-creepy.com exist? This point is further reiterated in one of the articles linked to by this article. ( this link was recovered from this screenshot on 'Problem 4: Inappropriate ad matching')

"In some key technological aspects, Gmail works no differently from those other sites. All these Web-mail options demand that you trust a distant site to store and send your e-mail reliably. None lets you peer behind the scenes to verify that they're doing what they promised with your e-mail. Brin noted that Gmail's scanning system isn't that technically different from the message-scanning that most other Web-mail services undertake to detect viruses and filter spam."

Some of which (this same article points out) you pay for this privilege. So maybe your mails is being read by the fbi at gmail, but maybe all the mail that goes through your ISP is being picked up by FBI snifferware. The only sure fire way to protect that privacy is to use some end point security, like PGP, and perhaps some tinfoil for your head. One of my prof's made a statement (arguably under duress of having his pc stolen and all his data in the hands of a nefarious criminal (who considering he used brute force to remove the computer from a locked office was probably more concerned about resale then data theft.) Regardless of reasoning, paraphrasing he said 'Everything put to paper, or bits, is effectively public, no security is 100%, and eventually it will get out. So don't put anything to paper, or bits, that you don't want public, so that "600 years from now my great great great great great great great grandchildren don't say, Man why did are great great great great great great great grandfather write such a cockamamie email, we are so embarrassed, he has shamed our family."'

In all things I think that the decision is a personal one, you must balance convenience, privacy and security. Gmail surely does provide a great convenience, and from a security aspect you have your own record of your emails secure and immortal to use in your own defence should you every be accused of this that or that other thing. You also lose privacy and run the risk of losing mail. It is any individuals right to use gmail or not, or reply to gmail or not, but I am revelling my right to think those who refuse to respond to gmail are a bunch nutters. (I also realize attacking the arguer and not the argument is poor form, but you welcome to attack me for that one.)

As for 'Problem 2: Google's policies do not apply' I'm not really sure they made a point here, and so I'm not making much of one either, basically they are saying google already has a track record for keeping your data, and that they have a creepy contract, no real qualification about what is creepy, so nothing I can really say to refute it, and the fact that they have a cookie to track you, well you can block there cookie if you like. Also, so does everyone else, which doesn't make it a good thing (re: all your friends jump off a bridge) but if you are going to boycott the one search engine boycott them all. Except maybe if you use the public library to look up information, your research assistant will get to know you personally, and keep a mental record of everything you lookup, and maybe even suggest other works which you might enjoy, I can just feel the privacy being breeched.

'Problem 3: A massive potential for abuse' back to the triangle, and picking what's best for you. Interestingly, if you never break the law, or participate in illicit behaviour (or at least never talk about it in your email.) Then you are generally safe from worry even if they do look at your email. And if you happen to be Cat Stevens and get barred from he country then maybe they have gone to far, but the fault doesn't like with those who store the data, but the society which freely abuses its existence, and again your personal choice if you want to expose yourself to that risk. Lets face it every time you dial your phone or use your bank card you have exposed yourself to that sort of risk, but billions of people do so each year without 'the man' coming down on them. I am certain that each year records are appropriated under warrants that may or may not have been obtained with valid legal grounds that do damage to an individual, and I am sure individuals lives are ruined by it, even if innocent being accused of certain crimes can shatter your life. This is not right, but the greater good is often served as these same tools are used to capture guilty criminals as well. Perhaps the only way to prevent the misuse of this data is in fact to record more not less. If we knew the location of every person at every second, what they said and what they did, then no one could be convicted by mistake again. Not likely to happen, and I'm sure has flaws of its own, but that is the extreme example where we have 0% privacy, and 99.9 % security.

'Problem 4: Inappropriate ad matching'
I don't know, a few off base ads vs. the regular glut of the internet? I prefer relevant ads, which I occasionally follow compared to 'emoticons for sale' I mean really how many smilyies do you want to buy? I contrast with TV which does target adds for their viewer ship, would Spike TV sell women's deodorant? Probably not, does that mean no women watch spike? No, just they have targeted the majority audience. Perhaps the reader of the article about cross boarder prescriptions, found the article based upon the desire for cross border prescriptions? Now at least they know they are running a risk of breaking the law, and incidentally who to break it with. I'm not saying the system is perfect, but I do believe it is an improvement over the chronic display of adds for x11 camera's, and smiley icons.

So is gmail-is-too-creepy.com and google-watch.com (the latter operates the first by the way,) bad? By no means, why I find their view point contrary to mine, I think privacy and security are concerns, and only through public discourse can we prevent the erosion of our privacy and security. I do feel that they poorly formed their arguments, and/or their arguments are lacking real content, this doesn't invalidate their point, just their ability to make it.

To conclude, I'm a young cynical, left leaning capitalist socialist, read I don't quite fit any particular pigeon hole. I don't live with a tinfoil hat on, nor do I put blinders on and assume the world is working for my best interests. That being said, I really like gmail, and am not 'creeped out' by it.

Finally, what is the deal with the bi-partisan dual press conference? I mean debate!

Geoff
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