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Gmail and privacy

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posted on Mar, 21 2005 @ 05:07 PM
I'm sure many of you have heard about the privacy issues related to Gmail, and I didn't find a thread in a search other than for Gmail invites, so I figured I'd start this one based on the privacy issues, and the possibility of making a big database full of profiles of internet users based on Google searches and emails.

You can find a fairly exhaustive website on the apparent problems associated with Gmail at

One of the problems is that the service uses keyword ads like Google does, and so to place these ads effectively, it has to scan the emails for keywords, which supposedly is a huge privacy risk. Google says that it is all automated and there is no human involvement in the scanning. But it's not just Gmail that scans emails, because any service that scans for spam or scans for viruses has to go through the emails, so if they're doing it too, why aren't they under the same level of scrutiny?

At this link you'll find information about the "immortal cookie" that Google and Gmail employs. If you use this stored search information and the emails and keywords from Google, you could potentially make a whole database full of profiles. Do you think this is likely to be happening? I'm interested to know what people think on the subject. (As for the problem with the cookie, you can just set the cookies to be cleaned on browser close, so that a new ID is issued every time, thus getting around the ID number being related to your searches.)

Another 'conspiracy' you could accuse Google of can be represented in a paragraph from the first link I posted:

After 180 days in the U.S., email messages lose their status as a protected communication under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and become just another database record. This means that a subpoena instead of a warrant is all that's needed to force Google to produce a copy. Other countries may even lack this basic protection, and Google's databases are distributed all over the world. Since the Patriot Act was passed, it's unclear whether this ECPA protection is worth much anymore in the U.S., or whether it even applies to email that originates from non-citizens in other countries.

The "crime" that Google is seemingly committing is encouraging users to keep their email so that it is more readily available, but I don't think this is limited to just Gmail users. As email accounts get bigger and bigger, people are going to naturally keep more and more of their email, past this 180 day period, its logical to not delete the emails if you don't need to. Hotmail's paid account gives a user 2 gigabytes of storage space, but I don't see that getting the accusations that Gmail is getting. Suppose I email someone who's using a Gmail account, they could keep that copy in their account for years, and so even if I deleted it from my account, there would still be a copy that's accessible. Now, suppose I email someone using a paid Hotmail account, they have twice as much space and so could keep my email for twice as long, but it isn't just limited to a paid account, because the free account gives you 250 MB, so most people could keep the email for a very long time anyway. So even if I email someone using Hotmail to avoid the "problem" that Gmail has, the user has the same likelihood of deleting it as they would have if they were using a Gmail account, so this so-called problem with Gmail is flawed. But that's just my opinion. I put it to you: are Google purposefully trying to keep emails from being deleted in order to build this database?

Phew.. thanks for reading! lol

posted on Mar, 21 2005 @ 05:12 PM
I would be inclined to use encryption software with any mail that I would send or arrange to be encrypted if I were to receive it if I felt the informtion was something I would not be happy in telling a total stranger. Have used PGP in the past which has been very good.

posted on Mar, 21 2005 @ 05:16 PM
I think PGP is very good, and if enough people started to use it, and it explained to a lot more people, it would become much more widely used, which would be very good for privacy.

posted on Mar, 21 2005 @ 08:42 PM
You beat me to the creation of this thread by about 1 day

I have a Gmail account, but it's not my primary account. I only use it for stuff that I couldn't care less if anyone else in the world saw. I think in theory, if they wanted to, Google could really compromise people's privacy, since they do store all those sent emails. But on the practical side, who on earth would want to read YOUR email? (not directed at anyone specific) It's probably quite boring, really, and wouldn't make any sense anyway, since Google doesn't have the context of your life to put it in. (I hope...) Why would I care if Google a message to my friend saying "meet you in the library at 3pm?" or something like that? I think it's like a lot of other things; the potential for abuse is there, but in practice, I don't think there's going to be a problem.

Still, it never hurts to be safe. That's why I don't send any private stuff via my Gmail account. I'd rather not get caught with my pants down, so to speak. I think I'm more concerned about how telemarketers are getting my phone number than I am about some bored Google employee looking over my email.

posted on Mar, 22 2005 @ 12:43 AM
I think they could use your emails to help build up a profile of you, if they wanted to, but I think it can be done with any email service. There's probably more of a conspiracy to bring down Google and there is a Google conspiracy

Plus, like you said, if you're doing nothing wrong, why would Google want to read your emails? lol. Maybe it's a conspiracy to find the world's best brownie recipe?

[edit on 22/3/2005 by Lyriox]

posted on Mar, 22 2005 @ 09:52 AM
I've had a gmail account for about 6 months now. It is my primary email account; I trust hotmail, my previous primary email account, far less than I do gmail. Over the past 6 months, there have been those text ads in the right margin of my screen, and about 90% of the time, they are related to something to do with that email. However, that's it. I have never gotten an ad that relates to something else I've written or received in the past, it's always key words from the email I'm in the process of reading.

Hotmail, on the other hand, was very different. I had an "exclusive" filter on my account there, yet junk mail did still get through. The interesting thing was that all the junk mail that made its way into my inbox would also come up as a pop-up on However, the most interesting part was the ads that would come through my filter. They were uncanny in their resemblance to what I had been writing about, and in many cases related to unread emails I had sitting in my inbox.

If I'm going to be spied on, I would rather they tell me exactly how they're doing it and be under the law's magnifying lens than to say they don't do anything like that while developing a database on everything of potential interest for me.

Gmail's cool, I don't think they store the information but rather just scan the current email opened for keywords. Hotmail, on the other hand....Well, just go here and tell me Microsoft wouldn't do something like illegally spying on you to make a few extra bucks.

posted on Mar, 22 2005 @ 12:42 PM
I think that the issue of privacy to a regular normal everyday person like most of us here is not that important.
I mean, so what if someone can scan my emails and put relevant ads on the side, or read emails older then 180 days? They are very boring and very irelevant for the fate of this world. Most of it can also be read in my blog anyway.
Besides I doubt that anyone would waste time on it while there are thousands and thousands of criminals and terorists using the net, who have a LOT to hide.

The issue could be considered relevant when it comes to industrial espionage. Now THAT might be a problem if the employees are using public email accounts without any encription and writing stuff they are not supposed to write. Or various investment companies writing insider info to their coleagues using hotmail or gmail.
Before you say "what dumb*censored* would do that", think again, there are a lot of naive people outthere, who are not familiar with these issues.

What is an issue for us normal folk is various spamers getting our mail. When it comes to that, gmail is a LOT better then any other email that I have.
I've been using gmail since june last year, I've registered on numerous sites with my gmail acount, and to this day I haven't received a single spam mail. Not a single one. Hotmail on the other hand is buried under tons and tons of spam and irelevant mail, yahoo too.

posted on Mar, 23 2005 @ 11:27 AM
Got some interesting points there guys.

There are other services out there that rival Gmail, and some surpass it, for example, which gives 1 gig space and a lot of other stuff, so, if there's an alternative, why not use that instead of using Gmail and having to even think about privacy?

posted on Mar, 23 2005 @ 11:39 AM
Because if you have a gmail account, IT people think you're cool...Although that's probably going to change shortly, seeing that I get 50 invites per month now...I suspect it's about to leave beta.

I really like how GMail does "conversations" instead of emails, and how you can search through everything.

Interesting point about corporate espionage. In hotmail's User End Agreement Liscense (EULA), they state that anything you send via your hotmail account is the intellectual property of Microsoft, or that they have rights to it. So if you, on your hotmail account, send a book you wrote to an editor, and for some reason Microsoft is paying attention to your account, they can, according to their EULA, have ownership rights to your book. Gmail doesn't have that in their EULA. I always thought that was REALLY screwed up about hotmail.

posted on Mar, 23 2005 @ 11:44 AM
I don't see how Gmail is going to maintain 1 GB for all their users considering the amount of people that are signing up for it, especially with all those invites.

The conversations thing you can do in a POP3 client. As well as that it means you don't have to open your browser to check mail, you can just open your client, and if its something like Thunderbird, you'll be able to add extensions onto it. Good old Mozilla.

I didn't know that about the Hotmail EULA, we should all really read the small print..

posted on Mar, 23 2005 @ 05:55 PM
From what I've heard, the original Beta Testers and some other users get to keep their account and the 1gb storage, but new people or late-comers to the GMail game may need to pay to create an account. But that's what I've heard. Nothing definite. I'm happy with my GMail at the mo, and I only use it for chatting to friends and it's a business e-mail with nothing to hide as of yet.

And can't the government (if they needed to), decrypt any sort of encryption, given time? I'm starting to doubt the 512bit Polymorphic encryption that I'm using. I haven't use PGP, but I've seen it everywhere.

As for how they can maintain the 1gb, It's google! They are making millions, if not, billions every year. And what's a few 200gb drives gonna cost them? Not much.

posted on Mar, 23 2005 @ 09:41 PM
Like some have said before, most people lead rather boring lives. This is best shown in the book Catch-22 in the first chapter. Yossarian is a censor for the air force and after only a couple of days becomes bored with the lives of the men that give him letters to censor, so he creates games such as censoring all adjectives, all verbs, everything except "a" "an" and "the". I think this applies to most people. Sure there are those out there that don't want the government knowing they cheated on their wife or lied to their boss about being sick. Sure, it's all very private, but in the's just not all that fascinating when millions of people are going through the same thing. And simply face the facts, anyone that has anything to hide WILL hide it using other means than free e-mail accounts so if there were to be a conspiracy it would be the biggest waste of time and money imaginable.


posted on Mar, 24 2005 @ 08:08 AM
Sure people lead boring lives for the most part, and the government has no real interest in it, but think of an analogy, would you like someone looking into your house through the windows 24/7, even if you were doing nothing? I'd find that a little uncomfortable to say the very least. It's about the right to privacy.

posted on Mar, 24 2005 @ 08:20 AM
i find it interesting that people have commented on the amout of spam on hotmail.personaly i have prety much started to ignore my isp e-mail service due to spam. with hotmail i can't recall getting a single piece of spam, i have used it for years. i also got a g-mail account last month but i havn't used it.

posted on Mar, 24 2005 @ 08:52 AM
People expect privacy in cyberspace, but in truth it's one of the LEAST private places you can hang out. I think its complexity blinds people to the reality that it is about as private as sitting down in the middle of a bus terminal and talking on your cell phone.

If you need something TRULY private, don't put it on ANY computer.

posted on Mar, 24 2005 @ 01:03 PM
FYI- Google's Mission Statement

"Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally useful and accessible."

The question is who are they trying to make it usefull and accessable for?

posted on Mar, 24 2005 @ 08:29 PM
I think that I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the user. I cannot believe that such a conspiracy would be afoot with google. There is absolutely nothing to gain for the government or other organization to read your e-mail (and by "your" I mean anyone that uses the services). The reason that I believe so is that google has too much to lose by offering up personal e-mail to highest bidder when the information is essentially useless. Anyone with anything to hide would definitely use something that they know is secure.



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