April 8, 2004

No Worries, It’s Just Processing

by Andrew Stern · , 10:35 am

Google’s new free email service, Gmail, offers users 1GB of free storage, in return for ads that appear in your email. Not just any ads, though — the Gmail system scans the text of the email you’re sending, to choose customized, targeted ads based on the content of what you’re writing about.

This is bound to spook some people out — the idea that someone, some thing, is secretly reading and deciding things about your private email. However Google downplays this:

“It’s not that Google is peeking… It’s computers doing processing.”

Just another case of “if it works, if it’s mainstream, it’s not AI anymore”?

3 Responses to “No Worries, It’s Just Processing”

  1. andrew Says:

    Ooh, here’s more… GooOS

  2. noah Says:

    From the EFFector:

    Google’s Gmail and Your Privacy – What’s the Deal?

    As you’ve no doubt already heard, Google’s new “Gmail” beta email service is raising concern about privacy protection. How much concern? Well, it’s not often that an email service is widely misinterpreted as an April Fool’s joke!

    The basic concept: Google plans to offer you a gigabyte’s worth of email storage capacity – by one count, up to 500 times that offered by its competitors. But the company also intends to scan the contents of your email messages in order to display advertisements relevant to your online conversations.

    Google’s announcement last week of the new service sparked widespread speculation about the possible impact Gmail would have on users’ privacy. Among the questions EFF has been asking: What information would Google pull from email? Would it log this information? For how long? Could your Gmail address or any other personal identifier be linked to those logs – or to your Google search history?

    This week, we sat down with Google and got some preliminary answers:

    ~ How Google Scans Your Email

    The process happens instantaneously: Google scans your email in order to target relevant ads the moment you click to open a message. The scan examines the text of the email you are opening and extracts what Google calls “concepts” in order to target relevant ads. By the time the text of your email is displayed, the ads have already been chosen and placed on the same page.

    ~ No Log Made of “Concepts” Data

    Google says that no record is created of the “concepts” extracted from your email, nor is a log made of which ads are served to you. (Advertisers will see your IP address if you click through an ad, but this is the way most ads work online.)

    ~ Your Gmail Email Address Can Be Linked to Your Search History

    It is possible to link your email address to your search history using your unique Google “cookie” – a bit of software code that automatically allows both the Google search engine and Gmail to “recognize” you whenever you return to the website. Unless you delete it, this cookie will remain on your computer’s hard drive for long enough to be effectively permanent.

    While Google says that it doesn’t currently correlate email addresses with search history, we know that the company will do so if required by law – e.g., if it receives a search warrant, subpoena, etc. For this reason, EFF strongly recommends that Gmail users delete the Google cookie often.

    ~ What’s Next?

    Although some of our concerns have been addressed, others remain. In next week’s issue of EFFector, we’ll discuss these concerns – many of which would apply to any business offering a free gigabyte of Web mail.

    See also the EFF’s weblog post on Gmail, including links to other relevant news articles.

  3. resonance Says:

    A former computer professor of mine, who worked quite a bit on AI-related projects, jokingly described AI as “that which computers do not already do.”

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