The Pernicious Potentials of Gmail

A recent suit against Google for its abuse of personal information collected through Gmail is being countered by the argument that Gmail users have absolutely no expectation of privacy, that anything sent or received  through Gmail is subject to scrutiny, analysis and commercial sale.

Gmail has nonetheless become very popular, largely due to its integration into the Google suite of online programs, and most Gmail users resign themselves to having their personal correspondence used for targeted marketing — often thinking little about their being included on lists of purchasers of pool equipment, weight loss supplements and sumo furniture.  Many though would have more serious reservations were they to discover that, based upon analyzed correspondence, their data, that of their children and Aunt Elsie are being sold, indicating that they are promising candidates for gambling offers,  medications sales, property scams or a vast array of other less savory enticements.   All assurance to the contrary, there is no question that data with high potential financial value will inevitably find its way to market, and may well lead to the appearance of slot machine displays, loan offers, and questionable programs in the mail and on screen which Aunt Elsie is probably unprepared to evaluate intelligently.  The potential uses for the content of prolonged correspondence are mindbogglingly horrendous, particularly given the psychological analysis tools that can and could be brought to bear.

These problems of Gmail and other pay-with-your-data free services are still relatively benign when compared to what they can grow into.  This “horizontal” information, that is, what list and categories one’s name appears on, can be converted into vertical information — a relatively complete dossier on an individual compiled from that horizontal data — opinions, weaknesses, inclinations, infirmities, embarrassing events, ill considered decisions and relationships, plots of financial history, diseases, menstrual cycles and many other things one might not want public.   Who would want to compile or pay for data of that sort?   Well, if one is in litigation over, say, alimony, child custody, settlement sums, these data could be of great value to the opposing attorney and could demand a significant price.  Similarly if one is running for office, the opposition candidate might be eager to have such info compiled and would pay well for it.  Here again one must understand that if the data exists, particularly if it is collected for commercial purposes, and if a high price is being offered for it, it will find a buyer, even if it must exchange hands a few times and pass through a few middlemen.

A complete record of one’s correspondence, easily combined with shopping habits and other marketable info, can provide, and be analyzed into forms that reveal far more than just about anyone would want known.

There are a few things one can do to minimize the existence of potentially insidious information and more are being developed, but one simple and obvious approach is not to submit voluntarily to its collection.  Don’t use insecure communications channels when corresponding; enough good alternatives do exist.





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