Conservative nut-house the Heritage Foundation, usually content with slavishly supporting George W. Bush, congratulating themselves about invading other countries and fighting to outlaw abortion, has weighed in on Google's new Gmail service.
Andrew M. Grossman, senior Web Monkey at the Heritage Foundation has written a piece defending Google's right to suck up all of the Gmail and sell it bit by bit to advertisers. Which, make no mistake, is what they are doing.
Unfortunately, they are being rather disingenuous. They are selling every word of every email to advertisers, and they clearly state that several paragraphs later: "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."
They also state that the process of selling your email word by word is completely automatic, and no human is involved in reading your email. Just like the FBI's Carnivore! http://computer.howstuffworks.com/carnivore.htm
Also, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says "It is possible to link your email address to your search history using your unique Google "cookie" - a bit of software code that automatically allows both the Google search engine and Gmail to "recognize" you whenever you return to the website. Unless you delete it, this cookie will remain on your computer's hard drive for long enough to be effectively permanent." You can find that article here: http://www.eff.org/effector/17/12.php
So now all of your searches, and all of your email can be tied together, so there can be a complete picture of who you are, what you search for, and who you email with.
What a great idea, you say? Well, fine, then the system can be designed to clearly let you "Opt-In", instead of placing the burden on the consumer. The EFF also says that you can delete this cookie often and that will solve the problem. Of course, when was the last time you deleted a cookie? And why should you, because companies should be protecting your privacy from the beginning, not placing the burden on consumers.
So they can keep your email, essentially forever. And with 1GB of storage, that could be a lot of email.
So what, you say? Because of course, you would never use email to discuss anything that could come back to haunt you, like sexual extra-marital affairs, or business practices, or politically unpopular speech, would you???? No, of course not, because you realize that with a subpoena, any court, divorce courts included, could get all of your email. Since is convienantly stored forever, it's will be a treasure trove for lawyers and the police.
And of course, they reserve the right to transfer your 1GB of stored email to another company, in case of merger or acquisition. How would you feel if General Electric suddenly had all your email, or Lockheed-Martin, or Microsoft?
The list of groups expressing concern for the policies include Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the National Consumers League, the World Privacy Forum and 24 other groups which sent a letter of concern to Google's two chiefs, which you can find here: http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/GmailLetter.htm
The Web Monkey at the Heritage Foundation says that the groups and individuals expressing concern over these policies are in the minority, saying: "These advocates actually speak for a small minority of Internet users."
We all know there are good companies and Bad Companies in the world, some who's deeds and practices are exemplary, and some who just dont care, and will use every underhanded method to get what they want. Spyware is just one example.
Which is why this is so disappointing. Google, for most of us, has seemed like a different company, a company of good people doing great work. Their search engine has changed the way we use the web, and we have been better for it. I congratulate them on it. But the way forward is not to try to trick people into exchanging their privacy for extra features.
The Web Monkey from Heritage says that consumers should decide. Do you really believe the message of the Heritage Foundation is "power to the people"? Of course not. The message is that we, the People, should not be regulating corporations. Let the market decide, says the Great Web Monkey.
After all, it's worked so well with Microsoft.
P.S. If you want good private email, I always suggest PGP. If you want PGP-type encryption online, try Hushmail. You can download PGP for free from http://www.pgpi.org
You can also buy PGP from PGP Corp at www.pgp.com, or, my personal choice, directly from the man himself, Phil Zimmermann at www.philzimmermann.com
Hushmail is at www.hush.com