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gmail and privacy - Ilya Shlyakhter (notestaff) - letters to editors
April 15th, 2004
09:15 am


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gmail and privacy
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The privacy problems of Google's e-mail service, which displays advertising based on e-mail content, are greater than Google admits ["E-Mail Ad Plans Raise Fears About Privacy," Business, April 2]. While e-mail analysis is done by computer, the computer code that does the analysis must be written and debugged by humans.

If the ads have a low response rate, Google, to find the problem, will have to look at the attached e-mails.

Google promises that "no human reads your mail to target ads or related information to you," but that leaves open the possibility that its employees will read mail to improve the general ad-targeting strategy.

Also, by responding to ads, Google's e-mail users reveal to advertisers something about the content of their messages -- for example, the presence of certain keywords. That information can be associated with a name and address when someone orders a product, then resold to third parties.

Some people may find that Google e-mail is worth the loss of privacy, but Google should do more to tell consumers what they're getting into.

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