Mossberg on GMail…

I don’t agree with the thinking here…

If you run a virus checker, it scans your messages. If you use email from your employer or school, they can scan your mail (and actually read it too), but GMAil seeks only to find relavent ads to send you based on context. The search is happening in an automated sense courtesy of the Google OS. I agree it might be creepy, but from what I understand of the Gmail UI (no account yet) it’s in a place that is obviously not your message, which will certainly avoid any advertorial issues or “paid inclusion” BS.

I think the key detail in all the Gmail hubbub, is that it’s free. Financially free… anyway. If you choose to use it, you accept the terms. If you don’t want it, there are other options (yahoo, hotmail etc…) who will also conveniently scan your mail…

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. []

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