California’s draft anti-Gmail law is, quite possibly, the dumbest proposed tech industry legislation I’ve seen in a while. Has the Honorable Senator Figueroa ever seen what Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, or any of the other free mail products look like? Does she understand how it is that all of the services exist at no cost to their users?

In a similar vein, has anyone demonstrated that the other big free mail providers don’t target ads to the email that a user is reading? I haven’t used Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail in a while, so I can’t say that I know either way, but it seems to be a no-brainer idea that would have crossed someone’s desk over the past year or two; if they don’t, I’d be willing to wager that it’s as a result of lack of innovation, not because Microsoft and Yahoo! have some stronger notion of the privacy of email users.

(Oh, and who’s forcing people to use the free mail sites? There are literally hundreds of companies who would be happy to let people pay them to host their email; if people don’t want to subject themselves to the terms of service for a free provider, they can let their wallets do the talking…)


Amen, brother! Insanity abounds in my state.

• Posted by: Derek Powazek on Apr 13, 2004, 8:20 PM

It is not just the ads. This law will protect users from sites that copy their users emails.

• Posted by: Nick Irelan on Apr 14, 2004, 2:31 PM

Nick, with all due respect, what does this mean? Specifically, I don’t understand what you mean by “sites that copy their users emails”; is Google somehow making mimeograph copies? (Doubtful.) Keeping copies stored on their servers? (Of course they are, that’s how mail servers work.) Distributing your email in books for profit? (That’s just silly.)

• Posted by: Jason on Apr 14, 2004, 3:08 PM

Yes, some sites do keep copies of their users emails. Its like deleting somthing in Windows. Your mail isnt always erased from their servers when you press delete. Some European countries have laws similar to this.

• Posted by: Nick Irelan on Apr 14, 2004, 3:13 PM

Nick, is there anything in the Gmail Terms of Use that has anything to do with Google ostensibly keeping your mail longer that you wish it to? I think that this is one of those issues wherein the lovely Senator and the disgruntled Europeans haven’t ever used Gmail; they all clearly misunderstand the whole archive-vs.-delete thing. (In Gmail, the default thing to do with mail you don’t want to see anymore is to archive it, rather than delete it, so that it remains searchable by you; of course, you can delete it if you so choose, you just have to choose “Move to trash” rather than “Archive.”)

Seriously, the fact that there are a ton of people groaning and moaning about a product they’ve never used is a bit tiresome…

• Posted by: Jason on Apr 14, 2004, 4:29 PM

“Personal information collected by Google may be stored and processed in the United States or any other country in which Google Inc. or its agents maintain facilities.”

They want to be able to do whatever they want with your email. This is illegal (Electronic Communications Privacy Act). Dont we have the right to control what is placed in our emails?

• Posted by: Nick Irelan on Apr 14, 2004, 6:06 PM

That’s quite a stretch, Nick — Google’s storage and processing of your email isn’t a crime, it’s the service that users are asking for them to provide by signing up for an account. Again, how is this statement, or (once again) any statement in that Terms of Use, a statement that they intend to store your email forever, or a statement that they intend to do anything other than provide users with a service that allows them to send, receive, archive, and search email? Honestly, this is just nutty; you’re not making a whole lot of sense.

• Posted by: Jason on Apr 14, 2004, 7:04 PM

Yes it is a crime. It might sound nuts to you ,but thats what the law says. They may not store it forever ,but notice the word store in that quote. They also say they would surrender information to authorities. This means they have to be storeing it for some amount of time.

• Posted by: Nick Irelan on Apr 14, 2004, 10:28 PM

(OK, let’s try to dissect this one via questions…) Nick, how is an email provider supposed to serve its users if it cannot store their email? I email you, and your email provider… deletes the email? How do you ever have the chance to read it?

And seriously, while it’s not clear how the Electronic Communications Privacy Act applies at all to online webmail systems, have you read it? Take a look at Title 18, Part I, Chapter 119, Section 2511, subsection (2)(a)(ii), as well as subsection (2)(d). You’ll be shocked how little you understand the law.

• Posted by: Jason on Apr 14, 2004, 10:49 PM

They can store it ,but should delete it when you ask them too.

Yes, service providers have the right to modify your account for practical reasons like spam filters ,but modifying your mail in order to put ads in it is illegal.

• Posted by: Nick Irelan on Apr 15, 2004, 12:48 AM

Nick, I have to side with Jason here. Can you point to a specific provision of the ECPA or any other law that GMail would violate here?

• Posted by: Sam Greenfield on Apr 15, 2004, 6:54 PM

I would have to look up the specific provision ,but it is a widly used law. Many message board administrators (such as Leo Laporte from TechTv) have publicly stated that modifying a users private messages is illegal.

• Posted by: Nick Irelan on Apr 15, 2004, 11:27 PM

Let’s see, Yahoo and their ilk append crap to the end of your outgoing messages. GMail shows some ads NEXT TO, not in, your email. So if I understand your argument correctly it’s not GMail but the other free webmail providers who are breaking the law.

• Posted by: Mark Gerrits on Apr 16, 2004, 4:50 AM

No, like I said before its not about the ads. It is about Google treating the users email like it is their own. Yahoo and many others have ads on their websites ,but they serve those ads to everyone. Google’s ads are user specific.

• Posted by: Nick Irelan on Apr 16, 2004, 3:11 PM

Nick says: “…but modifying your mail in order to put ads in it is illegal.”

In addition to supplying us with the relevant excerpts from the ECPA, it would be nice if you could enlighten me as to how Gmail ‘modifys your mail’. I helped build the thing, so I can say with more authority than someone who hasn’t used the thing that it doesn’t modify your mail at all. It puts ads in a column next to, and not even touching, your email. If that’s a modification, then Yahoo and Hotmail do it every day.

Like the bumper sticker says, “don’t hold strong opinions about things you don’t understand.”

• Posted by: Kevin Fox on Apr 23, 2004, 4:12 AM
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