For many different reasons, I’ve been toying with moving my mail needs over to GMail.
I’m lucky that I have my own mail server on my hosting box. I’m not dependent on my ISP to provide me with mail facilities.
However, I find myself using the webmail access on my server practically all the time, as I so rarely use the particular PC at home which I download my mail to. I have never found an opensource webmail client I have ever liked, in fact I don’t think I have ever liked any webmail client other than GMail with it’s AJAX wizardry.
I also miss not having my archive available to me when I’m accessing remotely. I tend download all mail off the server once a week or so. After that, the only way of reading that important mail someone sent me a fortnight ago is to wait until I get home and open up Thunderbird.
So GMail is an attractive option because the interface is nice, and the mail archive is always available. The fact that they put adverts on the interface next to your email doesn’t bother me – I simply never click on paid-for links and so I just blank them out of my mind.
The main thing which is niggling me at the back of my mind is the overriding message in the excellent EPIC 2014 flash movie (If you haven’t seen it, check it out now!).
It’s an all-too-real satirical timeline of the rise of “Googlezon” – the supposed Internet super-giant formed out of a theoretical future merger between Google and Amazon. In the movie, Googlezon are able to leverage the fact that they operate all of the main services on the internet. They can find out practically anything they want about any and all of their users by looking at their search queries, the books they’ve bought, the usenet postings they’ve made, etc, etc, and, of course, all of the emails they have ever sent and received via GMail.
Sure, it’s supposed to be slightly satirical but it does raise a very a good question: at what point does a single company gain too much access to information about you?
Offering a service which openly archives all email you’ve ever sent and received certainly seems to be on the way to that. Add in the potential to store logs all of the other services Google also offer around your Google log-in (such as Google Talk, Google Desktop Search and Google Groups) plus the fact that they can also store every Google search, Google News article clicked on, etc, etc… I think people have a right to wonder where all this is leading too.
But back to GMail…
As I was thinking about this some more, I remembered that Adam Curry often mentions that he uses GMail for his email. It got me wondering whether that was actually a very safe thing for him to do?
Whether you believe the hype around podcasting or not, the fact is that he’s sitting on almost $9m of first-round VC investment. No doubt he is sending and receiving industry-sensitive emails in the course of setting up his empire. I would have thought there must be strategic information in there which would be of great use to Google.
Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo! has also talked of his love for the GMail interface. I’m not sure whether he actually uses GMail or not, but assuming he does, it’s possible people might send him emails that contain sensitive martial about future projects in Yahoo? Again, I’m sure Google would love to be across this kind of information.
Even I sometimes use my personal email to send and receive documents about my activities at the BBC. I doubt Google have as much to gain from finding out what I’m up to at the BBC, as they do for Adam Curry and Jeremy from Yahoo!, but the point again still stands.
So for the time being, I am going to pass on GMail. If it was an independent company then maybe I would think differently (although of course there would be nothing to stop Google or someone else buying them, and their user’s archive, in the future).
But for me, I think I am nearing a point where I will think carefully about whether I wish to use a future Google service – simply because of the shear amount of information Google are gaining about me.
Sure, I’m not the first person to raise these concerns, privacy activists have been harping on about this for ages.
What I think is different now is that we’re reaching a point where normal/average people like myself with more “middle of the road” views on privacy are beginning to also question where this is all leading.
I think that’s a concern which Google will need to think about long and hard as it continues to increase its business empire. There’s talks of a Google ISP, which if it happens will bring this issue to a whole new level – now Google will have the ability to add details of all of the websites you’re looking at to it’s growing database about you.
(If you are interestd in this topic, Wired have written an article about this: “Google Growth Yields Privacy Fear “)