“Security notice: You are entering a page which is not secure. The information you view and send can be read while in transit.”
And with a simple click of the OK button, I bypassed this little security warning and accessed for the first time my new Gmail account. This week, I joined the small-but-growing segment of the population lucky enough to ditch their digs at Hotmail and transition into using the beta version of Gmail, Google’s new e-mail system. Gmail blows its competitors out of the water; if the storage space allotted to the average Hotmail account was Rhode Island, the storage vault at Gmail would be Alaska. Furthermore, Gmail allows users to search their archived e-mail and categorize their correspondences.
I probably sound like a walking advertisement for this Google off-shoot – “Gmail cleared up my psoriasis, reunited me with my biological parents and solved my erectile dysfunction. Praise Gmail!” – and I might have been, initially. But by Googling the phrase “Gmail,” I found reason to doubt my new e-mail messiah. Just four search results below the link to the Gmail log-in screen, I saw a link reading “Gmail Is Too Creepy.”
The theme song to “Unsolved Mysteries” is creepy – as are black cats, home-schooled kids, hypnotists and Scientologists. But nothing about my e-mail’s tidy, well-organized interface sent a shiver down my spine.
According to the critics of Gmail at this site, www.gmail-is-too-creepy.com, this service and its parent company represent an invasion of privacy that would subject users to both government scrutiny and overzealous online marketing. These folks argue that Gmail’s storage capacity and “never delete an e-mail again!” policy essentially create a permanent file of users’ personal lives that both Google technicians and government spooks can search and use for data mining, persecution or – I’d imagine – personal amusement.
Secondly, the site condemns Gmail’s ad-matching feature, which puts all e-mail through automated scanners that glean key words that dictate what ads will pop up when you log in. You write about grapefruit in an e-mail or 20, and suddenly you’re pounded with ads for fresh fruit.
The site managers at Gmail Is Too Creepy conclude by saying that Gmail’s policies are too invasive and that they will simply refuse to reply to any e-mail sent by a Gmail user.
And here I thought my biggest problem with my new e-mail service would be deciding whom I would extend my six precious Gmail invitations to.
Though the tone of these gripes reminds me of some nutball conspiracy theorist, the points are valid. Google wields great power in the online world, which every day encroaches more upon the offline world, previously known as “life.” Users should be aware of Google’s liberal interpretation of the term “privacy” and understand who might read their mail.
However, I think some people overanalyze how much others – even government spooks – care about their personal lives. The critics say, for example, that those sending e-mails containing the words “box cutters” and “airline schedules” could be branded terrorists. Box cutters and airline schedules are a bit 2001 for me. If anyone read my typical e-mail topics – forwarded jokes, interoffice administrative bullshit and the Linguistics Dept. listserv – they’d be bored senseless. Personally, I’m considering sending out a flurry of e-mails containing the words “dildo” and “cock ring” just to see if Gmail smuts up my ads.
My decision to proceed with Gmail, despite the warnings, ultimately boils down to the storage space. As somebody who spends most of his day mired down in words, the prospect of having a well-organized e-mail archive is too tempting. Hotmail sucks nuts and until another e-mail service can offer Gmail’s pluses without the minuses, it’s simply a matter of efficiency.
After hearing about all those creepy baseball curses, Daily Nexus columnist Drew Mackie got scared and reluctantly sent this column from his Hotmail account.