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Google
Cube Jockey
Many of you may have read about a new service Google intends to offer in the near future called Gmail.

The technology they are providing seems very impressive -- 1GB of storage, increased spam protection, google-like searches for your inbox, and all of that is free. Or is it?

The other part of their service they are touting is the ability to scan incoming emails you receive and if you are talking about going out for Mexican food, maybe it could suggest local places in your area and insert that into your email somewhere.

This is presumably how they could possibly offer some of the cool features mentioned above, but in my mind this raises some very important privacy concerns:

1) Currently they allow businesses the ability to buy key words and put their name at the top of searches. What is to stop them from say - allowing a pro-lifer to distribute messages to people talking about abortion?

2) If they use technology to read your email, what is to stop them from doing other things aside from targeting advertising to you? For example, maybe you are angrily complaining about the president -- what is to stop them from scanning your email for key words and forwarding it to the FBI or Secret Service?

Obviously we can avoid these problems quite simply, do not sign up for the email service. But it raises some larger issues I think and sets dangerous precedents technologically.

Questions for debate:
- Does google's proposed technology and business plan present a danger to our privacy? Why or why not?

- Does this set a dangerous precedent for the future? Why or why not?
Google
Talyn
QUOTE(Cube Jockey @ Apr 2 2004, 11:18 PM)
Many of you may have read about a new service Google intends to offer in the near future called Gmail.

The technology they are providing seems very impressive -- 1GB of storage, increased spam protection, google-like searches for your inbox, and all of that is free.  Or is it?

The other part of their service they are touting is the ability to scan incoming emails you receive and if you are talking about going out for Mexican food, maybe it could suggest local places in your area and insert that into your email somewhere.

This is presumably how they could possibly offer some of the cool features mentioned above, but in my mind this raises some very important privacy concerns:

1) Currently they allow businesses the ability to buy key words and put their name at the top of searches.  What is to stop them from say - allowing a pro-lifer to distribute messages to people talking about abortion?

2) If they use technology to read your email, what is to stop them from doing other things aside from targeting advertising to you?  For example, maybe you are angrily complaining about the president -- what is to stop them from scanning your email for key words and forwarding it to the FBI or Secret Service?

Obviously we can avoid these problems quite simply, do not sign up for the email service.  But it raises some larger issues I think and sets dangerous precedents technologically.

Questions for debate:
- Does google's proposed technology and business plan present a danger to our privacy?  Why or why not?

- Does this set a dangerous precedent for the future? Why or why not?

In my opinion, Google's proposed technology is a double-edged sword, as said before. It allows the power of Google search and new technologies to aid in ease and reliablity. However, this new technology could damage our privacy.

- Does google's proposed technology and business plan present a danger to our privacy? Why or why not?
Yes. It threatens to destroy the barrier between sevice user and service provider.

- Does this set a dangerous precedent for the future? Why or why not?
Yes. It means that the technology is out there. If that kind of thing gets into the wrong hands, who knows who is going to be reading your e-mails on their lunch break? Also, it means that if Google is unsuccessful and the government wants this technology to monitor a suspected terrorists e-mails, and ends up reading and targeting yours somehow, how are you going to feel? What happens if this is a big hit with some people, and, just for the sake of MSN, MSN decides to install this technology? Or perhaps Hotmail, or Earthlink, or AOL, or whoever. This destroys our sense of security and privacy. In conclusion, the new technology and business plan presented by Google's new Gmail system is an overall thumbs down.
Jaime
QUOTE(Cube Jockey @ Apr 2 2004, 06:18 PM)
- Does google's proposed technology and business plan present a danger to our privacy?  Why or why not?


Iím having a bit of trouble answering this because I think the question is a bit skewed. The fact that Google is being upfront about their policies and how they will use your information indicates to me that the only privacy being surrendered is that which the user allows. Google is a free service. Meaning it costs no money. That does not mean it comes without obligation on the part of the user. Your obligation, or fee, for using Google or Googleís Gmail service is that you are allowing some of your information to be used in order for Google to serve advertisements to you. Yes, your privacy is being surrendered but only you can surrender it in these instances.

Google hides nothing from their users. From their Gmail Privacy Policy Page:
QUOTE
We never share your personally identifying information with any advertiser as part of this service, unless you specifically ask us to do so. When you are logged into your Gmail account, Google will display targeted ads and other relevant information based on the content of the email displayed. In a completely automated process, computers process the text in a message and match it to ads or related information in Google's extensive database. No human reads your mail to target ads or other information without your consent.

Advertisers receive a record of the total number of impressions and clicks for each ad. They do not receive any personal information about the person who viewed the ad. If you click on an ad, Google will send a referring URL to the advertiser's site identifying that you are visiting from Gmail. Google does not send personally identifying information to advertisers with the referring URL. (emphasis mine)


This is really no different than the Privacy Policy of Yahoo, which states:
QUOTE
Yahoo! collects personal information when you register with Yahoo!, when you use Yahoo! products or services, when you visit Yahoo! pages or the pages of certain Yahoo! partners, and when you enter promotions or sweepstakes. Yahoo! may combine information about you that we have with information we obtain from business partners or other companies.

<snip>

Yahoo! uses information for the following general purposes: to customize the advertising and content you see, fulfill your requests for products and services, improve our services, contact you, conduct research, and provide anonymous reporting for internal and external clients.


Yahoo has been doing similar data collection of its users. I guess I am a bit confused as to what all the hubbub is about with Google now doing it. My only guess is that it is because Google is really good at using the information they gather to serve ads. In my opinion, they are the best.

QUOTE
- Does this set a dangerous precedent for the future? Why or why not?


When this story broke on Drudge (the first place I saw it), I rolled my eyes and thought Drudge was up to his usual, uninformed, scare mongering. I commented to that effect to Mike. And then this thread showed up on the forum shifty.gif

Nothing new is going on here. In late 2000 Google introduced its Toolbar program. If you use that, Google may:
QUOTE
collect information about web pages that you are viewing when the advanced functionality is enabled. However, this advanced functionality is optional, and can be easily disabled and re-enabled at any time (by selecting "Privacy Information..." in the Toolbar's "Google" menu.) Toolbar Privacy Policy


When you are simply searching by using Google's webpage, they may:
QUOTE
choose to exhibit its search results in the form of a "URL redirecter." When Google uses a URL redirecter, if you click on a URL from a search result, information about the click is sent to Google, and Google in turn sends you to the site you clicked on. Google uses this URL information to understand and improve the quality of Google's search technology. For instance, Google uses this information to determine how often users are satisfied with the first result of a query and how often they proceed to later results. Google Privacy Policy


Now letís jump in the internet time machine and find some real precedent, shall we? wink2.gif

I found this little gem on a newsgroup from 1996:
QUOTE
Attention, web surfers:  You'll probably be surprised to hear this,
but the Web sites you're visiting may be spying on you and using
your own computer's hard disk drive to keep detailed notes about
what they see.

A little-known feature of Netscape's Navigator, as well as other
World Wide Web browser programs, including Microsoft Corp.'s, allows
Web sites to store any information about your visit that they want
to by way of a file on your own hard drive.
Link


My goodness! To what evil could this article possibly be alerting us? What sinister, privacy eating monster was this?!? ohmy.gif

Why cookies, of course! Yes, cookies. If youíre logged in here, youíre using cookies. If youíre logged in anywhere on the web, youíre using cookies. ph34r.gif

Precedent has long ago been set. Google just seems to be the one setting the trends these days so people are going to notice them.

::::::::::::::::::::

It's been awhile since I've really seriously debated anything. Thanks for ruffling my feathers! mrsparkle.gif
Cube Jockey
QUOTE(Jaime @ Apr 3 2004, 04:53 AM)
Iím having a bit of trouble answering this because I think the question is a bit skewed.  The fact that Google is being upfront about their policies and how they will use your information indicates to me that the only privacy being surrendered is that which the user allows.  Google is a free service.  Meaning it costs no money.  That does not mean it comes without obligation on the part of the user.  Your obligation, or fee, for using Google or Googleís Gmail service is that you are allowing some of your information to be used in order for Google to serve advertisements to you.  Yes, your privacy is being surrendered but only you can surrender it in these instances.

Upon reading my first post a little more closely, it does appear skewed, but only because I posted my own opinion there as well smile.gif I think the questions are still valid though.

I agree with your statements here, if you do in fact choose to use Google's email service, which is free, then you agree to abide by the terms that they set forth. They have clearly stated that they will have a machine scan your email to target ads to you in the email.

QUOTE(Google Privacy Policy)
We never share your personally identifying information with any advertiser as part of this service, unless you specifically ask us to do so. When you are logged into your Gmail account, Google will display targeted ads and other relevant information based on the content of the email displayed. In a completely automated process, computers process the text in a message and match it to ads or related information in Google's extensive database. No human reads your mail to target ads or other information without your consent.


The bolded section above is the area that concerns me. Google says absolutely nothing about being able to opt out of these ads. Therefore, your email communications are effectively at their mercy.

Currently Google sells keywords to anyone that wants to buy them, you just have to follow their guidelines, which don't do a lot to regulate content only that it is relevant to the search term. These advertisements appear at the top of google when you search for something. If I wanted to shell out the money, I could buy the search term George W. Bush and point those search terms to a page detailing all of the lies he has told in his presidency. Google couldn't regulate that provided it was a relevant link (which it would be) and it met their grammar guidelines.

I am assuming that they will setup something similar (or maybe even use the same mechanism) to target ads to email users.

So let's use an example here: Let's say that someone emails you about abortion or abortion clinics. If a pro-life group has decided to use this service they could target short anti-abortion advertisements to you directly inside the email.

Even if the pro-life group doesn't know who you are, they have effectively forced their political message on you by virtue of sticking it directly in your email message. Can google do this with a search? Sure they can, but targeting keywords in a search is far less invasive than targeting your email.

QUOTE
When this story broke on Drudge (the first place I saw it), I rolled my eyes and thought Drudge was up to his usual, uninformed, scare mongering. I commented to that effect to Mike. And then this thread showed up on the forum


Actually I have never even read Drudge, believe it or not, so this thought didn't come from him. I was just thinking about this today because the deal seemed too good to be true. flowers.gif

So what is the dangerous precedent here?

Well, the problem with all of this is that Google will create an incredible competitive advantage if this catches on. Users will leave Yahoo and Hotmail in droves for the better spam filters, huge 1GB storage limit and cool search technology. Google, if they are successful, will get rich in the process (which I'm sure they are counting on). The effect that is going to have, is other email providers such as Yahoo and Hotmail will in turn try to implement similar technology.

The problem with innovation when it creates a competitive advantage is that it doesn't remain a competitive advantage very long.

Suddenly those of us who did not sign on to the Gmail band wagon will be forced to endure these ads if we want to continue using free web email.

So I would ask everyone to think about it in that context and then tell me if I am still fear mongering.
Desert Resident
Does google's proposed technology and business plan present a danger to our privacy? Why or why not?

No more of a danger than you authorize. FREE services and products almost always come with conditions which are stated in the Privacy Policies. Tucked away in the fine or small print are make or break conditions which most people don't bother to read. Google offers a free email program that has more benefits than competitors, in turn makes a bundle from the advertising because more people are apt to buy if the ads are targeted to match products or services they are interested in. And why free? They will be overwhelmed with people signing up for free email...the more people using their email program means more potential customers to purchase from their advertisers which translates into mega bucks for Google and their sponsored advertisers. Most reliable free email programs have an option to free with advertising or pay a yearly fee for ad free email.

What will be interesting to read in their policy information: in addition to email ad tracking, what type of spam filtering will they use? Some email programs' filtering systems blocks the good stuff and allows tons of spam to fly through, or is so sensitive that almost all email is blocked unless the user sets up a white list designating what email addresses are permitted. I quit using a couple of the well known "brand" free email programs just for the very reason that the legal emails were blocked and tons of spam got through.

Does this set a dangerous precedent for the future? Why or why not?

Not any more than what has been in force for years. FREE comes with some potential pains in the neck....pop up ads or splash screen ads you click on to close. Spyware that can be downloaded without your knowledge or permission. Sharing your personal information with third, fourth or more parties. According to law, these conditions must be stated in their privacy policies and usually are toward the end of the seemingly endless policy that most people don't bother to read.

Just for the heck of it, I signed up to be notified when their email program is up and running. Will try it out and if it ends up being more of a pain than gain...will drop if fast.
slim
Does google's proposed technology and business plan present a danger to our privacy? Why or why not?

Not at all. When you opt-in to a service (any service) you agree to certain conditions, all of which must be spelled out for you in a TOS agreement. If you read the entire agreement, then you will know exactly how much privacy you have with that given service. If you don't like what they monitor and/or share, then you shouldn't opt-in to the service. If they installed monitoring software without telling you (as some less-reputable software does), then we have a privacy issue. If they tell you what they are doing, then you have signed away your privacy (even if you choose not to read the TOS, you have to agree to it in order to run the software).

Does this set a dangerous precedent for the future? Why or why not?

I wouldn't say a dangerous precedent. I'm sure all the other free e-mail services out there have similar plans being worked on and we will see them in the very near future. But you have the same option. If you don't like it, then don't use the service. If that means you have to pay for e-mail service to avoid such monitoring and mass e-mailing, then so be it.

Nothing in life is free. Anyone offering a free service has to cover their costs and try to make a profit somehow, otherwise they will not exist for very long. One of two things will happen with services like this:

1) People will not mind the intrusion in exchange for free e-mail, and Google will make a ton of money off of it, likely causing other free providers to jump on the bandwagon.

2) People will shun the service, and Google will re-vamp it in a less obtrusive manner. Other free providers will still jump on the bandwagon and launch similar strategies for marketing.

My guess is that #1 will be the scenario that plays out, as people tend to complain about their privacy being trampled, only to continue to sign up for more and more services that monitor their every activity, so long as said services are free.

If people are truly concerned about protecting their privacy, they need to read and re-read TOS agreements for every single piece of software they install. Many 'free' software packages install so called 'spyware' that you would never even know existed if you didn't read the TOS accompanying the software you actually intend to use. In addition, try running a spyware detector (such as Ad Aware) to see who exactly is watching you right now! You may be surprised how many different programs are monitoring you as you read this (insert evil laugh here).
SirVLCIV
I'm signing up for GMail when it's available. 1GB is awesome. It will most likely be my general email service.

However, in terms of private communications, I'll most likely continue using my current email service. Friends can have the choice which email account to email me at (if they're scared of the privacy issue).
Phlurg
I don't find it especially scary that an automated software process might "read" my e-mails. After all, this happens anyway. Every e-mail you send is essentially "read" by numerous bits of software, from the time it's typed into your e-mail client, packaged, broken into packets, transmitted, collected, turned into a file on disk, etc... etc... None of these "understand" the content of your e-mail and more importantly, none maintain any historical record of the content of your e-mail, other than the time of transmittal (and a text copy in the case of your e-mail client, if you save your sent mails).

Nor am I concerned that it might "fall into the wrong hands." Your e-mails at hotmail and yahoo exist on disk somewhere. Any malevolant or intrusive human has the same potential to access these e-mails directly as they might via Gmail.

What does concern me is if historical data is maintained. If Google simply displays an ad based on the fact that you've mentioned Viagra in an e-mail, that's one thing. You might say such an algorithm is "stateless" or "memoryless" in that it doesn't remember what you've said from e-mail to e-mail. But if Google tracks and records the number and timing of references to not just Viagra but say, Prozac, or heart medication, then that poses issues. For example, what if this information is sold to insurers who then deny coverage or claims based on inside information that they possess? In such a case, Google would be building historical understanding of you based on your e-mail content.

As an amusing counter-twist, I could see how users might begin to try to fool Google's e-mail processing filters via the same approaches spammers use, by misspelling wordz, hy-phen-at-ing, or including reams of bogus nonesense words to mask the e-mail signature. xxdgzin rqwex, wdisdkhje jkqkqfyd smtzjtq. Or even, turning your e-mails into JPGs and e-mailing those. After all, you have 1GB of storage! laugh.gif
Phlurg
FYI, Slashdot is running an interesting thread that directly pertains to this topic:

http://yro.slashdot.org/yro/04/04/22/01542...8&tid=95&tid=99
Pittslp
QUOTE(Phlurg @ Apr 14 2004, 02:04 PM)


What does concern me is if historical data is maintained. If Google simply displays an ad based on the fact that you've mentioned Viagra in an e-mail, that's one thing. You might say such an algorithm is "stateless" or "memoryless" in that it doesn't remember what you've said from e-mail to e-mail. But if Google tracks and records the number and timing of references to not just Viagra but say, Prozac, or heart medication, then that poses issues. For example, what if this information is sold to insurers who then deny coverage or claims based on inside information that they possess? In such a case, Google would be building historical understanding of you based on your e-mail content.


If insurance companies gained personal health information from Google, that would violate every HIPPA patient privacy law that exists. Google would be out of business in no time. Not only that, but the insurnace company would be in a lot of trouble as well.
Google
loreng59
I understand the pro's for this new service and it is similar to a lot of other's such as Yahoo, but since it reads the incoming mail that means it reads what I wrote to somebody without my consent.

This is a fundamental problem, since I did not allow my private messages to be read by anybody other than the person I choose to send to. I do feel that is an invasion of my privacy and do not feel that is okay.

I will not use it, nor will I send anything to somebody using it. I will also consider blocking receiving mail from that server as well.
deathalive
i am fully aware of their popularity with most children and adults as the best search engine on the web. i am sure that they are perfectly allowed to do that and if you dont want them to, dont use their service. its all like the camera issue in schools.when in a public place/forum you are suspect to their rules and regulations and your privacy is here and known void.
fugazzi007
QUOTE(Cube Jockey @ Apr 2 2004, 06:18 PM)
Questions for debate:
- Does google's proposed technology and business plan present a danger to our privacy?  Why or why not?

- Does this set a dangerous precedent for the future? Why or why not?

1. No, the technology does not _increase_ the danger of invasion of privacy. Most email systems are relatively easily cracked, and the information shelled out, with some encrypted services such as hushmail being exceptions. The real security risk is whether a well-known, trusted organization will sell our phone numbers to telemarketers, so to speak, and I don't believe that will happen due to 1. legal issues, 2. public interests, and 3. business ethics.

2. Innovation has always been a target for questions such as this, and rightly so. Blindingly accepting a new technology has been dangerous is in the past, but it has also been liberating. If this type of technology was destined to come about, I can think of very few other companies that I would want to spearhead the effort than Google.
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