All this and privacy too?

Posted by Jenna Gallagher on August 14, 2013 |

This week, in an announcement that surprised exactly no one, it was revealed that a brief filed by Google to try to head off a class action suit against them disclosed that yes, in fact, they are reading your emails.

And they have no intention of stopping. Citing a 1979 Supreme Court ruling, Google asserted that “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.”

They further used the analogy that “just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS provider in the course of delivery.”

I never thought of Google honcho Eric Schmidt as my assistant, but okay.

Maybe it’s naïve of me (or maybe it’s because I have two young children, thus long ago gave up any reasonable expectation of privacy), but I really don’t think my Gmails have anything to hide. I tend to go with Schmidt’s assertion from a 2009 interview, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Much less, putting it in writing.

And while Google was named by The Guardian earlier this year as one of the companies that gives the NSA “direct access to its systems” as part of a surveillance program called PRISM (an allegation the company denies), I think most of us are flattering ourselves if we think our Gmail should require a government clearance.

These words may come back to haunt me, but I don’t think Google has any secret plans for the information it is getting from my emails. I more or less believe that Google is doing with my information exactly what it says it’s doing: using it to market to me and filter my junk mail. I believe this because they do a pretty darn good job of doing these things and I like having access to free search, free email and free apps, like Ngram Viewer which graphs when words start appearing often in print, thereby giving you a sense of when ideas really start to flourish.

I don’t believe I’m betraying any sacred or hard-won rights to use these free tools. To prove this, I did an Ngram search of the word “privacy.” It was barely even a molehill until the early 1980s…about the same time the word “Internet” started taking off.




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