Anti-Gmail = Anti-Email?
Found a posting over on Medley that mentioned an anti-Gmail site. I don’t have any concerns about Gmail myself, but I’ve been intrigued by people who wail about the bad things that will happen because of Gmail. I checked out the site and it appears to me that many of the concerns that people have about Gmail aren’t specific to that service.
One issue is they claim messages will exist indefinitely. They complain that Google will keep all messages, even deleted ones, which will remain accessible internally. Turns out they’re talking about backups of the mail system. Have these people never heard of backups before? Do they think Google is the only mail provider who makes backups of their mail system and actually keeps them around for a while? Do they think that when they delete a message it magically disappears from all backup media that contain that message?
They also complain about messages that are older than 180 days being subject to a subpoena instead of a warrant. Assuming this is true (which I have no reason to doubt), how is this specific to Google? Any mail system where people keep their mail on a server instead of on their local machine would be subject to the same rules. Are they implying that only Google provides enough space to have messages that are more than six months old? There are many systems out there that offer large mailboxes with some already jumping on the GB+ bandwagon (Spymac offers 1GB, and Aventure offers 2 GB!) We have messages that are seven years old on the mail system I manage at Olin.
In the end their solution is to simply not send messages to anyone with a gmail.com address. I wonder if this person has ever heard of forwarding? When you send email to someone you have no idea where that message will ultimately wind up, where it is stored, or what the recipient does with it. At Washington University, alumni are now able to keep their @wustl.edu addresses after they graduate. Mail sent to their address is forwarded to whatever external account they provide. So this person who said they would never send mail to Gmail users might send mail to someone with @wustl.edu on their address, thinking they are safe, not knowing the message is being forwarded to a Gmail account. Hmm, maybe they better go back and rethink that plan.
The people behind the anti-Gmail site should really stop sending any email if these are things which truly concern them.
“The people behind the anti-Gmail site should really stop sending any email if these are things which truly concern them.”
That’s silly. As I said on my own site, it’s about visibility of the issue, not whether Gmail is the first or only service to raise this issue. In this case, Google gets the attention (bad and good) because they were the boldest. It comes with the territory. In addition, because they’ve raised the profile and visibility of long-term, large-scale email storage, it’s likely that various parties (including law enforcement) will start thinking about it in ways that they may not have been before (even though the technological capacity is not significantly different).
I don’t leave my mail on my hosting provider’s server for any length of time. However, nor do I worry much about who I send mail to. Gmail, though, like Microsoft, is likely to be a target (of various things) in a way that other services are not, even when the services provided are conceptually identical.
For myself personally, I find these issues important and conceptually very interesting. Getting people to think about the implications of long-term third-party storage of personal communication is an important goal. There are myriad policy implications. Existence of the technological capacity is one thing. Widespread use without much user control or input is another.
I don’t personally worry too much about privacy because I really don’t have much, myself. (I have a clearance with the government — ‘they’ already know everything about me they want to.) I do, however, worry about policy and social implications of technology. Google wasn’t the first, but they’ve made these issues salient and visible and they’ll bear the brunt of the discussions around them.
Your comment “just don’t use email then” is similar to telling people who worry about .. say .. street crime or air pollution.. to just not go outside.
There are important discussions to be had here. Dismissing them out of hand is unproductive.
I’m not seriously advocating that people shouldn’t use email if they are concerned about these issues. I’m pointing out that their “solution” of not sending email to Gmail users is what is silly, since their concerns are applicable to any mail service. Under their rationale, they wouldn’t be able to send mail to anyone.