Monday, April 26, 2004

I got mine!

I got myself a fresh new Gmail account today. These accounts are still of limited availability, apparently they are still testing the system. Anyway, I am just bragging.

Here are some interesting portions of the privacy policy:

By using Gmail, you agree to the collection and use of your personal information as described in this policy. If we make any significant changes to this policy, we will notify you by posting a notice of such changes on the Gmail login page.

You should know:

We collect limited account information and store and maintain your account and email messages on our secure servers.
We will never rent, sell or share information that personally identifies you for marketing purposes without your express permission.
We serve highly relevant ads and other information as part of the service using our unique content-targeting technology. No human reads your email to target ads or related information to you without your consent.
You can update your account information and preferences at any time.
To comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, at this time Gmail is only available to users who are at least 13 years old. If you are under 13, please do not use the Gmail service.

Email contents and usage. The contents of your Gmail account also are stored and maintained on Google servers in order to provide the service. Google's computers process the information in your email for various purposes, including formatting and displaying the information to you, delivering targeted related information (such as advertisements and related links), preventing unsolicited bulk email (spam), backing up your email, and other purposes relating to offering you Gmail. Because we keep back-up copies of data for the purposes of recovery from errors or system failure, residual copies of email may remain on our systems for some time, even after you have deleted messages from your mailbox or after the termination of your account. Google employees do not access the content of any mailboxes unless you specifically request them to do so (for example, if you are having technical difficulties accessing your account) or if required by law, to maintain our system, or to protect Google or the public.

We also may collect information about the use of your account, such as how much storage you are using, how often you log in and other information related to your registration and use of Gmail. Information displayed or clicked on in your Gmail account (including UI elements, ads, links, and other information) is also recorded. We use this information internally to deliver the best possible service to you, such as improving the Gmail user interface, preventing fraud within our advertising system, and better targeting related information.

Google will never sell, rent or share your personal information, including your Gmail address or email content, with any third parties for marketing purposes without your express permission.

How we deliver targeted content to you.

We never share your personally identifying information with any advertiser as part of this service, unless you specifically ask us to do so. When you are logged into your Gmail account, Google will display targeted ads and other relevant information based on the content of the email displayed. In a completely automated process, computers process the text in a message and match it to ads or related information in Google's extensive database. No human reads your mail to target ads or other information without your consent.

Advertisers receive a record of the total number of impressions and clicks for each ad. They do not receive any personal information about the person who viewed the ad. If you click on an ad, Google will send a referring URL to the advertiser's site identifying that you are visiting from Gmail. Google does not send personally identifying information to advertisers with the referring URL. Once you are on the advertiser's site, however, the advertiser may collect personal information about you. Google does not control or take responsibility for the privacy policies of other sites.

Google may send you information related to your Gmail account or other Google services. Because we believe such information is important, you will not be given the opportunity to opt-out of receiving them.

When we may disclose your personal information.

As a standard email protocol, when you send an email from your Gmail account, Gmail includes your email address and user name in the header of the email. Beyond this, we do not disclose your personally identifying information to third parties unless we believe we are required to do so by law or have a good faith belief that such access, preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to (a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request, (b) enforce the Gmail Terms of Use, including investigation of potential violations thereof, (c) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues (including, without limitation, the filtering of spam), (d) respond to user support requests, or (e) protect the rights, property or safety of Google, its users and the public.

Nothing shocking here, however, a privacy maven I spoke with last week got me thinking. As a student of law, one is trained to consider the legal ramifications of a party's actions, but in the real world there are many other considerations; such as the reputation and goodwill of the company involved. Here, Google has taken a beating recently, they look more suspicious all of a sudden. Also, it is entirely possible for such information as Gmail will use to serve ads to be collected and aggregated in ways that would be considered an abuse of privacy even though not in violation of any statute. While most will be quite pleased to have a Gmail account (with it's 1 Gig of memory), we all must maintain an awareness of the uses of our personally identifiable information. I trust Google because they have a reputation to uphold and plenty of pressure from outside consumer advocates, but I wouldn't trust most online companies for anything.

If you want to get in touch with me, my new Gmail account address is: ccohen at gmail dot com


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