free e-mail service has been derided as an
obnoxious privacy invasion that will suck up
vast amounts of user data and deposit
information into a massive database that never
that's before it's even officially available.
Internet search leader says its computers
will merely be scanning e-mail so it can place
relevant and nonintrusive text ads next to
messages. That's how Google plans to make a buck
— and be able to offer the service without
charging the user.
privacy advocates pontificated, lawmakers
legislated and Google posted notices about how
important privacy is, I got a chance to try out
Web-based Gmail. I was generally pleased, though
it's not yet a finished product.
privacy, there are a lot bigger fish to fry as
messages travel from computer to computer across
the Internet and into the recipient's Google
privacy debate tends to obscure assessment
of other Gmail attributes namely usability,
storage and search. In most of these areas,
Google trounces other free e-mail services,
including those offered by Microsoft Corp. and
most impressive feature is its 1 gigabyte of
storage per user. It makes Microsoft Hotmail's 2
megabytes (1/500th) seem stingy, as well as
Yahoo Mail's old limit of 4 megabytes, which
will soon be boosted to 100 megabytes.
of trashing messages that might be useful in the
future, the e-mails and attachments in Gmail can
of course, incorporates its powerful search
function, making both active and archived
messages quickly accessible. The entire inbox
can be searched from a text box that appears on
every page. Beyond that, Gmail organizes
messages by conversation, rather than by simple
chronological order. When a new message at the
end of the conversation is opened, the older
ones appear as horizontal tabs but can be
revealed with a couple of clicks.
are other flourishes: Gmail can be
configured to mark messages addressed to me as
opposed to a mailing list. Messages also can be
marked with a star and everything in that
category called up with a click.
such as automatically archiving a message can be
programmed. Similarly, user-defined labels can
be attached to any message or conversation,
making it easier to sort them.
Gmail is mostly polished, some areas need
improvement. For one, it doesn't work with
third-party e-mail programs such as Outlook or
Eudora. Its Web-based interface also chokes
Safari, Apple's Web browser.
system also lacked any explanation as to whether
messages and attachments are scanned for
viruses. It also didn't do any better than my
Hotmail or Yahoo accounts in identifying
messages as spam.
the much-maligned advertisements, I found
them to be unobtrusive and well-targeted, just
like the text ads that appear alongside Google
searches. Google also occasionally provides a
list of "related" links to sites and
news stories beneath the ads.
doesn't always deliver ads. This was usually the
case with personal e-mail messages that weren't
many postings on privacy, Google also says it
would "block certain ads from running next
to an e-mail about catastrophic news."
it by sending an e-mail to my Gmail account with
"catastrophic" news about the death of
a fictional uncle, who "died"
tragically while vacationing in Hawaii.
enough, no ads for funeral homes appeared. Nor
did any useful links to mortuaries in Hawaii.
I appended the tragic news to a conversation
about Cisco routers and sent it to my Gmail
account, technical ads suddenly appeared.
seem to be ways to get around the ads. The
Cisco thread, for instance, did not trigger any
when it was in a Microsoft Word document sent as
someone who read Google's policies, which were
written in plain English, and willingly signed
up, I had no problem with the message scanning
and the company promises not to sell your data
to third parties.
about the people who e-mail me? Don't they have
turns out, there may be bigger worries, none of
which have anything to do with Google.
instance, i the message originated at an
office computer, there's a chance a suspicious
boss (or his software) reviewed it. If written
at home, there's a possibility that a paranoid
spouse installed a program that captures every
was sent over an unprotected Wi-Fi network,
the message could have been intercepted by a
nosy neighbor. If it was checked for spam, it
likely was scanned for words like
"Viagra" and other tip-offs that a
message will be unwanted.
the Internet, most people don't bother with
encryption even when it's available, so the
bored technicians at Internet service providers
and elsewhere can easily have a look.
not to say Google might not someday be involved
in some sort of scandal involving Gmail. But at
least the company is clearly stating what will
and won't be done with data.
To discontinue mailings, click here