COMPUTER RESEARCH & TECHNOLOGY
Gmail - Google launches free e-mail
Search Engine gurus, Google, promotes its controversial new e-mail service as a breakthrough in online communication. The trouble is many consumer and privacy watchdogs are attacking it as a creepy invasion of privacy that threatens to set a very troubling precedent.
Google's Gmail service promises free e-mail with feature rich organisation and search capabilities. Gmail, which isnt even available to the general public yet is however being heavily pressured by critics to drop its plans to electronically scan the contents of the users e-mail so it can promote and display relevant advertising inside the incoming messages.
Google on the other hand promises search technology to automatically organise and find messages. They are also offering 1,000 megabytes of storage something a typical user shouldnt ever fill up unless they store lots of music, movies or graphics.
They also state there will be no pop-ups or banner ads in Gmail, just relevant text ads and links to related pages. Gmail's other distinctive features include a labelling system, a spam reporter and a system for filtering your mail as it comes into your inbox. Google intends to deliver ads by analysing what's being discussed. For instance, an e-mail from one friend to another talking about an upcoming trip might include links to hotels or airlines.
Does Google intend to charge for Gmail?
Gmail at this time is said to be a free service. There is of course no guarantees that at some time in the future a fee will not be applied or that a paid for premium service will be made available. Other free e-mail providers have taken this approach in the past.
Those same providers will disconnect you if you do not access your e-mail account on a regular basis
What about junk mail is there a spam killer?
Google say they are committed to keeping unwanted messages out of your inbox. Gmail is expected to include a sophisticated spam filter. The Report Spam link in Gmail will be a way for users to help in eradicating spam. It removes spam from the inbox and sends data to the Gmail team working on spam blocking.
So, there are ads inside the e-mail?
Similar to Googles search results pages, Gmail will include relevant text advertising on the right side of the page. The targeting of ads based on the content of the e-mail is said to a completely automated process performed by computers. Apparently no humans read your email to target the ads, and no email content or other personally identifiable information is to be provided to external advertisers.
Ads are matched using the same type of technology that powers the Google AdSense program, which places targeted ads on many sites across the web by quickly analysing the content of pages and determining which ads are most relevant to them. As an example if you were sent an e-mail which discussed going to a concert then you would most probably be targeted with ads by ticketing agencies.
Why are Google venturing into this sector of the market?
E-mail overload is caused in part by the inability to search through e-mail quickly and efficiently. Gmail is Google's effort to address this growing problem. There are already other programs that tackle e-mail overload with e-mail client add-ons but they do not have the market presence to promote themselves in the same way that Google can.
Gmail provides Google with an opportunity to enter a fresh market, currently dominated by other Internet companies. However even as the benefits of personalisation were widely advocated, Web e-mail vendors have considered such a step to be very risky. Many operate under the assumption that highly targeted personalization based on e-mail content has the potential to infuriate users, who may not believe assurances that the automated ads do not violate their privacy.
What are the privacy advocates up in arms about?
As of recent times The World Privacy Forum and at least 27 other privacy and civil liberties organisations have written to Google to requesting they suspend its Gmail service until the privacy issues are adequately addressed. The letter also asks Google to clarify its policies regarding data retention and data sharing among its other business units.
In the main this group are voicing their concerns about Googles plan to scan the text of all incoming messages for the purposes of placing targeted advertising, whilst observing that the scanning of confidential email for the purposes of inserting third party advertising content violates the implicit trust of an email service provider. The scanning creates lower expectations of privacy in the email medium and may establish dangerous precedents.
Other concerns include the unlimited period for which the emails and the information contained within them might be retained. They are interested in what Googles current policies allow, and the potential for unintended secondary uses of the information Gmail will collect and store.
Privacy advocates are worried that Gmail will comb through e-mail more intensively than the filters widely used to weed out potential viruses and spam.
Gmail opponents also want Google to revise a policy that entitles the company to retain copies of people's incoming and outgoing e-mail even after they close their accounts.
The e-mail scanning, which Google says will be handled exclusively by computers, has raised the most alarms, partly because it seeks to capitalize on messages sent by people without Gmail accounts.
So should people use Gmail or not?
Business and enterprise level organizations possibly should not use free consumer-based e-mail. Inevitably it will lack level of flexibility, management and security that business will require. Those types of businesses that need broadly searchable e-mail should consider desktop or enterprise level search products already available on the market today.
By way of example a problem with Yahoo Mail indicates why business should not use free e-mail services, which focus on selling products or services to the consumer, not on hosting enterprise-level mailbox systems. Workers' attention and productivity can suffer as advertisements distract their attention.
Free e-mail may not necessarily be secure and may be vulnerable to hacker intrusion. Businesses increasingly send sensitive information by e-mail eg, financial dealings, intellectual property, legal documentation etc.
System availability is outside of the businesses control. A service can be scheduled to go down for maintenance when the business really needs it or international time zone conflict.
Performance degradation can result from overuse, poor maintenance, system changes or targeted Denial of Service attacks.
Free e-mail offerings may not include business productivity and collaboration tools such as calendaring, contact management and other extended services. If they do, they may lack support for workgroups.
Undoubtedly marketers will see Gmail as a new means for targeting specific consumer segments. Those consumers who do use Gmail must decide if they are prepared to be targeted for marketing messages based on what they write in their e-mail messages.
Keep up to date with the latest in the IT/Communications industry by listening to ABC Local Radio on FM107.1, every Tuesday morning at 9.15AM.
Computer Research & Technology Managing Director Arthur Hissey and Morning Host Janice McGilchrist will be discussing current matters of interest and future directions in the IT industry.
Transcripts of these discussions and other topics are available, just click on the links.
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