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April 08, 2004

GMail: Google Stepped In It

"All this handringing by librarians and others is ridiculous. Google is a commercial service and business. They clearly state what they will be doing. If you don't like it go someplace else. Also, remember the old internet adage: 'Do not send stuff in an e-mail that you would not want on the front page of the New York Times.'" -- Bill Drew, post to Web4Lib, 4/8/04

(Or on the front page of Free Range Librarian?)

Here's my reply.

When Google offers a service, they should first of all be up front about how they plan to (ab)use personal information. As an 800-lb gorilla, they have a particularly strong responsibility to behave appropriately on the Internet. If they can't, and I suspect that is true, then they should be regulated by the government to force them to behave responsibly, and if they don't like that, boo-hoo: they got a chance to get it right the first time. Being piggy gives commerce a bad name.

I hope other search engines are rushing forward to offer private, non-abusive e-mail services, big mailboxes or not. (There had to be a reason they were offering so much space. Of course they want you to keep all of your mail on their servers!)

Second, there is no strong connection between your "adage" and this situation. That adage, while apt, applies primarily to friends and colleagues forwarding/sending mail to others. It does not refer to the WalMart of Internet appliances skulking through our mail, automatically or otherwise, and bombarding us with advertisements based on our personal information, or about hovering up our email addresses to trawl for their own purposes.

Good on the Times (and other media who have caught this) to report on it.
The world beyond us should understand these privacy encroachments much better.

And one again (waving trifocals in air, thumping sensible shoes on floor) we digital librarians need to be not only having "hackfests," to reimagine librarianship, but also "ethicsfests," to port our values to a new platform, as it were. If there is one thing we can bring forward from the quaint old days of bound books and Gaylord charge machines, it is our historically fervent commitment to free speech, the right to read, and privacy. "Let them eat cake" is not in my vocabulary.

Posted by kgs at April 8, 2004 10:24 AM

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I really understand your concerns but do again disagree. We do need to inform patrons about Google's policies. This is not really a privacy issue to me. Privacy issues are when such things are done without our consent. When the user subsribes to G-mail they are agreeing to Google's terms.

Posted by: Bill Drew at April 8, 2004 12:21 PM

I honestly don't know what we librarians would do without you in our midst. Thank you.

I'd like to add that many users will subscribe to G-mail with maybe a cursory glance (if that!) to Google's terms. We all know that people rarely read all the fine-print, particularly prior to signing up with a previously respected and trusted organization such as Google.

Posted by: R C Nemer at April 8, 2004 12:27 PM

Bill - disclosure does not make the privacy problems go away. They can get credit for being upfront but the underlying issues still remain.

Posted by: A. Mutch at April 9, 2004 01:59 PM

How patronizing some people are! I see a comment that reads (paraphrasing), "we all know how people don't read the fine print".

Well, thanks, smart, superior being, compared to the rest of the world's hopelessly inept and foolish masses, that is. Protect us, please, from our incompetence. Get off my back, will you?

Here's an outfit (Google) that comes up with a way to provide a service, make lots of money thereby, and is clear and up front (visit the site, guys!) about what it's doing. Instead of sneaking round the back door, as do so many bad guys, they're finding a way to directly involve me in response to my own selfish (not a bad word) interests. As I'm pleased to know the service is available, even if I don't need it as things now stand ... and I see nothing at all untoward about it.


Tony D'Ambrosio (AKA Tony Ambrose)

Posted by: Tony D'Ambrosio at April 10, 2004 07:25 AM