Recently, TechnologyReview.com, the online edition of Technology Review magazine reran an article by frequent TR contributor, Simson Garfinkel (see resources below), that it first ran back in 2006, shortly after Google’s Gmail was first released. The editors at TR thought that the concerns raised back then about both the security and privacy of Gmail have now become more of a concern than ever due to Gmails huge gains in the free online e-mail market.
The hitch here though is the part that Gmail process goes through a filter and intercept system whereby the information from the contents of the email itself are matched with ads that other companies pay for. These ads are then sent to the users browser where they are displayed on screen when the user is checking or reading e-mail messages. If your sister sends you an email and is writing about how your mother is sick and dying from cancer, you’ll get cancer treatment center ads right next to that e-mail for example.
Google promises that no human eyes at their site every see any of the content of any private e-mails, though no one but Google employees have access to their site to ensure that this promise is kept. This is not all exactly new news however, as those users that have been using Gmail for a long time have likely noticed what has been going on with the ads that appear in their browser.
What they may not have been aware of though, is the fact that one, Google keeps everything that comes and goes from every e-mail box, and two, does not guarantee users anything regarding those e-mails, which means that Google could, if it so chose, sell either the addresses on those e-mails to third party spammers, or worse, to anyone looking for information on someone, say a collection agency investigating delinquent customers, or lawyers looking for dirt on a cheating spouse. There is of course no reason to believe Google has done any of these things, or ever will in the future; that’s not the scary part. The scary part is that they could if they wanted to, any time they choose, which would put Gmail users completely at their mercy.