Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Why you shouldn't be scared of Gmail

Salon.com has an article entitled "Don't be afraid of the big bad Gmail" (yes, you will have to watch an online ad to get a free day pass to read the whole article and, no, you can't just let the ad run in a separate window, the ad requires interaction -- what a pain in the ass, but I guess that's how they make their money; although I can't tell you anything about the ad I watched except for the fact that I had to click the "next" button 3 times).

A few choice pieces from the article:

"It has a fairly effective spam filter that uses both rules-based and Bayesian filtering. I redirected much of the spam from my old mail account to Gmail, and it caught every piece of spam I threw at it. Brin says that coming down the pike will be even better filtering tools."

The span tool strength is good to know because I haven't really been using my Gmail address too much yet, primarily because I did not know the spam filter strengths.

"Like all the major free-mail services, Google is relying on ads to turn a profit. But Gmail ads are different; they aren't just appended willy-nilly to the bottom of your message (they don't show up in the body of your message at all, in fact). Gmail robots automatically scan the text of your incoming messages, and then use that information to deliver targeted ads and related links that appear next to incoming messages."

Personally, I would rather have this kind of advertising than advertising at the bottom of the e-mails I am sending to people. If the advertising is based on content in my e-mails, well, I was the one that agreed to let the spiders crawl through my e-mail.

So how do the ads work? From the article:

". . . when I added specific products or corporate names to the mix, Gmail typically homed in on them immediately. It also seemed to have a much easier time with technology-related subjects."

I have also found this to be true -- Gmail really loves corporation names (not that the ads you receive are necessarily for the corporate name in your e-mail) and really gobbles up technology topics.

Regarding the California legislation:

"When Salon posed the question of what, exactly, was wrong with this, if users knew about it beforehand, Sen. Figueroa noted that many users don't read privacy policies, and pointed out that third parties who send e-mail to Gmail users are unknowingly submitting to having their e-mail scanned."

Umm, I read the privacy agreements. I also read my credit card receipts before I sign them, although I didn't always used to. I haven't read the bible of information that my credit card company sent me regarding terms and conditions. Does that mean credit card companies should not be allowed in California because "user's don't read?"

Ok, so the main thrust of the legislation really deals with the 3rd party issue. Here's a suggestion for 3rd parties sending e-mail to Gmail users: set your spamming, I mean e-mailing engines to not send mail to *@gmail.com and *.*@gmail.com. By doing this, you will be able to opt out of having your e-mail scanned.

Even better, from the article:

". . . as Sen. Figueroa herself points out, virtually every piece of e-mail sent across the Internet is already scanned by robots, be it for spam or viruses. If you have a problem with robots reading your mail -- with or without your consent -- you're going to have to go back to the U.S. Postal Service, or start encrypting everything."

This is even more confusing because is sound like Figueroa is giving ammo to her opposition. Maybe she's planning on banning virus detection and anti-spam software in California as well -- that would be a great idea.

I've said it before, but here it comes again -- Read the Gmail privacy policy. If you don't like it, don't sign up for it. You can get a free gig of e-mail at Spymac and I am sure that other services with similar or more storage will be showing up soon. If you really want non-advertising-based e-mail, pay for it. I pay a few bucks a month for my various Ureach accounts and get no ads, a unified inbox for fax, e-mail, and voicemail, and integrated spam and virus detection.

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