Thursday, May 06, 2004 - Personal Technology: Clean Image Is So Key To Google's Success, Why Take Gmail Risk? - Personal Technology: Clean Image Is So Key To Google's Success, Why Take Gmail Risk? "I'm all for advertising. Advertising pays my salary, and it can be helpful and interesting to consumers. But I'm against advertising that is too easily confused with editorial content. If Yahoo's system applied to newspapers, there would be paid news stories in the paper that looked just like real stories but were even more prominent than the real stories.
But Google is risking its reputation for honesty, and for putting the user first, with a new e-mail service it is currently developing, called Gmail. The Gmail service, which I've been testing, offers users free e-mail with a massive storage limit of one gigabyte, far more than any competitor provides.
There's a catch, however. Google intends to run ads down the side of the e-mail messages in Gmail, just like it does in its search results. And, just as on the search pages, the Gmail ads will be triggered by key words in the body of the text -- in this case, the text of your e-mail. So if I get an e-mail that refers to, say, a kind of product, I might get an ad for a store that sells that product.
The problem here isn't confusion between ads and editorial content. It's that Google is scanning your private e-mail to locate the key words that generate the ads. This seems like an invasion of privacy. Google notes its scanning will be done by computers, and that these machines can't understand the e-mails and are just looking for specific terms. And the company notes that nearly every e-mail anybody receives is already scanned by computers looking for spam or viruses.
These are logical points, but the proposed system is still a little creepy, and it has the potential for big problems if the content scanning were ever misused by Google. Google might also be forced to use such content scanning in the service of government subpoenas or court orders that might apply to years' worth of its customers' e-mails.
So I'm calling on Google to preserve its sterling reputation for honesty and customer focus by offering an alternative form of the new Gmail service. The company should offer Gmail accounts without the ads, and without the scanning, for a modest annual fee. That would put the choice where Google has always placed it: in the hands of its users."

Well, at least they're not using that insidious smart tag technology, right Walt?...
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