Magazine article American Libraries

Internet Librarian: Privacy Ain't What It Used to Be

Magazine article American Libraries

Internet Librarian: Privacy Ain't What It Used to Be

Article excerpt

This is not a column about Google. Okay, maybe a little at the beginning, but I promised myself I wouldn't write about Google for at least another several months. How can I resist, though, when they keep coming out with new and provocative stuff like Gmail?

Gmail is their new free e-mail service, currently in beta testing. Like other such services, messages will come surrounded by or embedded with advertising; this is the price we pay for otherwise free e-mail access. I've been a Hotmail user for years, creating faux identities and e-mail addresses that I use to register for websites, as spam collectors, and so on; it comes in very handy.

The real crucial distinction, though, is that Gmail will have a humongous storage capacity: 1 gigabyte, compared to the now-measly 2 MB from Hotmail, and roughly equivalent to a half-million pages of straight text.

Also unlike those services, Gmail will attempt to focus and target that advertising by searching the contents of e-mail messages. This seems a fairly logical and straightforward extension of their current advertising program, which pulls up sponsored links as results of searches. I've used those links once in a while, especially in areas where I don't really know anything.

With this announcement came the fairly predictable and axiomatic privacy concerns, as you can imagine. I've read interviews with people who weren't really crazy about the idea of "Google reading their e-mail." Google people say that, of course, no people will be involved, that it's all automatic.

I have to admit, though, the general reaction seemed a little muted to me. I've also read several pieces, including a very interesting one from Tim O'Reilly (he of the O'Reilly tech books with the cool animals on the cover; read it at, that say this is no big deal. Some people have also said they thought this was a great idea--if you get a message from a friend discussing your mutual devotion to Fleetwood Mac, it might come with an ad for CDs or yet another reunion tour.

Indifferent to intrusions

In particular, the reaction from young people has been very ho-hum. They seem not to be very exercised about this--and it should be noted that several thousand people signed up fast for the beta test of Gmail. …

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