September 07, 2004

Gmail Gets Up Close and Personal

Dow Jones columnist Jeremy Wagstaff's Loose Wire (a great technology blog which I find myself reading more often) details a few sensitive or personal subjects Gmail appears to be culling from individual Gmail accounts -- one of the initial and continuing concerns surrounding the new controversial e-mail service.

He cites an example whereby a friend wrote another friend about her ex-boyfriend, and then saw numerous ads in her account relating to getting her ex back, a breakup survival guide, meeting a lover, and more.

Jeremy raises some interesting points:

"As my friend says, 'This is too damn scary. Going back to Yahoo.' I agree. I think Google has to draw a line here somewhere: Firstly, contextual ads should not be so clever that they know what you're cooking that night (or if they are, they shouldn't be so dang literal about offering to spice it up) and secondly, and most importantly, there has got to be a broader definition of what is considered intrusive. Figuring out from what you write that (a) you've broken up, (b) you have kids and (c) there might be a problem related to (a) and (b) is way too creepy to be helpful. Google should immediately drop any contextual ads that deal with such issues unless users specifically approve of them.

Then, of course, there's the issue about where this information is stored. Already a deeply detailed profile of my friend has been built up in the week she had Gmail; what would happen over a year? And how is that information stored, shared and combined? We need to know more."

Playing devil's advocate for a minute, such information could be helpful to a person in that situation. However, who feels comfortable knowing that one's personal life is being indexed and cataloged so precisely? I agree -- we need to know more, and in the meantime, err on the side of caution if personal privacy is of any concern.

Obviously, we each have a choice whether or not to use Gmail, and in providing feedback. If we don't like something online, we can always vote with our mice.

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
Posted by Jeff Beard