#104 - E-mail and g-mail (Watt Thoughts) 6/1/2004
Recently two items have come forth in the Internet world either as a proposal to stop spam or to allow more free e-mail. Bill Gates recently proposed that a method of postage be placed on e-mail. Google has introduced their free e0-mail version that features specialized advertising. I personally have no problem with Google on the second, but disagree with Bill Gates on the first proposal.
Google has come out with an e-mail system that looks at e-mails and attaches advertising to the message that matches to keywords in the message. The other free e-mail systems just attach ads to the message but without looking at the message or targeting to it specifically. Some people have a problem with Google's proposal as they claim it infringes on the sender's privacy rights. If the government was doing this I would probably agree with them.
Google e-mail (known as g-mail) is a private operation. (Google has been a private company and is just now having an IPO. Individuals have the right to either use or not use g-mail. Most e-mail is completely open e-mail, meaning anyone using packet catching (sniffing) software can read the messages. You could encrypt it of course, but that is not normally done. There are other free e-mail services available such as Yahoo and HotMail. Google and them are only able to offer it free to consumer by having advertising such as TV and radio do. You could also pay to use an e-mail service and skip the ads.
If you choose to use g-mail, you know up front they will read your e-mail and advertise based on it. For this reason I have no problem. At no point are people led to believe it is private.
If the post office was to do this with first class snail mail, then I would see a problem as first class snail mail has always been treated as essentially confidential if in a sealed envelope. E-mail has never been confidential. I have taught my students since the early 90s, and tried to follow myself, not to put anything in an e-mail you do not want your mother to read you said in tomorrow morning's newspaper headlines.
Bill Gates has proposed that e start charging postage on e-mail. His reasoning is that it would stop spam. My guess is that it will stop more personal e-mail than spam. His proposal is not a money fee for postage (everyone's first guess) to require a certain amount of server time to do a puzzle for each message sent. More server time does mean more servers needed and operating systems are needed to run servers and who has a large percentage of the server operating system market?
In addition have we ever stopped spam in snail mail? NO. Interesting enough spammers in snail mail have to pay postage, but who pays more per piece, me for a few letter a month or a spammer? ME. I suspect the same would happen in e-mail.
Obviously people buy from spammers or it would not be worth their time to do it. If we really want to stop spam, then don't buy from them. I have never bought from a spam message.
E-mail has always to me had the advantage of sending lots of quick messages to one or many for a quick response. There is no way in my opinion to compare e-mail to snail mail in messages sent. Where I might write someone one letter, we might exchange 10 or 20 messages on e-mail to get the entire same message. E-mail has hurt snail mail, but not one to one. Spam is irritating in e-mail but it is in snail mail also. I have to get it form the snail mail box, put it in the trash and haul it off. Not much different than e-mail but more physical labor in snail mail. However the content of the worse e-mail spam is illegal in snail mail as it is pornographic or questionable legal grounds. I would suggest filtering your e-mail, don't respond to spam and learn to quickly personally filter ass you do in snail mail. Do you open snail mail spam, if not why do so many think they have to open on e-mail spam. One other hint, make sure you always put good subjects on e-mail as I usually delete messages with no subject unless I happen to notice I know sender.
Until we clearly define spam with a definition we all agree on, we can't stop it, but we can control it. We don't need Bill Gates' proposal, but actually g-mail may actually be easier to control spam as it can watch for keywords.
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