There are lots of people who have had lots of questions about Gmail, Google’s “free” email service. You know, “free”–as in you give them your data and they sell it to advertisers to push ads to you in your emails based on–what exactly?
I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t believe that the ads get to your email by scanning your emails for keywords. And therein lies the rub for doctors, lawyers and–world governments. What does Google say about this? Well, they don’t say they monetize your “information” (meaning your email correspondence). They also don’t say that they read your mail, or at least not exactly.
Here’s what they say (or what they said today in response to criticism from Microsoft) according to Politico’s Morning Tech:
“‘Advertising keeps Google and many of the websites and services Google offers free of charge. We work hard to make sure that ads are safe, unobtrusive and relevant,” the company said in a statement. “No humans read your email or Google account information in order to show you advertisements or related information. An automated algorithm – similar to that used for features like priority inbox or spam filtering – determines which ads are shown.'”
Ah yes, “the company said”. Ever notice how rare it is that Google actually allows the press to use anyone’s name? Ever notice how willing journalists are to go along with anonymous sources from public companies for an important comment on something as ubiquitous as email? Or more accurately–Gmail? The thing that gives the lie to Google’s antitrust defense that users are “one click away” from a competitor?
But I digress.
Here’s a proposal for Google. If they can build a machine that will dehumanize the reading of your email to find keywords that they in turn sell to advertisers, can they also build a machine that dehumanizes serving ads to pirate sites based on keywords in artist names, song titles or lyrics? Or, for example, serving ads–not to one of hundreds of millions of email accounts that have to generate some unreal number of emails a second, but to sites listed on Google’s own transparency report?
Why is it so difficult for Google to stop the ads going to pirate sites, but they can serve ads to your Gmail account in real time based on words you have written only seconds before?
And another thing–if Google has built this algorithm that can read your emails that precisely, will they promise they aren’t using it for any other purpose? Let’s say–for a government purpose? For…oh, I don’t know…the data center for the National Security Agency being built in Congressman Chaffetz’ district in Utah? Which sounds a lot like Gmail, shaken not stirred. (See Wired: The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say).)
Or maybe your are willing to trust that Google wouldn’t do something quite so evil–after all, they hired this man to run their government security operations who plays Russian roulette with a nail gun on national television:
Yes–Eran Raven has it all nailed down.
Feel better now?