Gmail, or, of the window and the rationality being hurled thereout of

Wednesday, 5 May 2004

I don’t understand what the big deal is about ads on Gmail.

Let’s first be clear about what Gmail is doing. They display targetted ads by are scanning the mail for keywords. Now, the result of this scan-and-lookup process is not stored anywhere, merely sent to your browser as an ad. The ads are displayed separately from the mail body and the mail as stored on the service is untampered. Note that “reading” your mail isn’t technically even a separate processing step – the server delivering it to your browser has to get it from somewhere.

Now let’s compare this to the spam filtering services offered my most freemailers and also done by a lot of ISPs. Here, the mailserver reads your mail, at least its headers, as it comes in. On this basis, the mail may be rejected it even before it is fully received. Then the entire mail is read, including body, to scan it for a signs of spam. Headers are added to the mail as a result of this process. Finally, the mail is delivered – but possibly to a spam folder instead of your inbox.

Which one is more intrusive? Why are people so up in arms about the former – yet sing praises about the latter? I will never understand.

If you are concerned about machines reading your mail you shouldn’t even be sending any: all mail servers on the way between you and the recipient will do that. How else could mail even work?