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Microsoft's Ballmer: Google Reads Your Mail 264

Posted by Zonk
from the ballmer-lives-in-a-glass-house dept.
Anonymous writes "A piece of video has emerged in which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says of Google, 'they read your mail and we don't.' Evidently, it was part of a lengthy discussion on the future of the software business model, and whether advertising could support free consumer software. Ballmer said it doesn't work, at least when it comes to email. '"That's just a factual statement, not even to be pejorative. The theory was if we read your mail, if somebody read your mail, they would know what to talk to you about. It's not working out as brilliantly as the concept was laid out." Ballmer isn't the first to fire salvos at Google's Gmail privacy policy. Privacy advocates have been critical over the policy almost since the beginning, but the popularity of the service has skyrocketed nonetheless.'"
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Microsoft's Ballmer: Google Reads Your Mail

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  • What a crock (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nacturation (646836) <nacturation AT gmail DOT com> on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:26AM (#20895381) Journal
    Yes, Google "reads" your email in order to serve up context-sensitive advertisements. Microsoft also "reads" your email because if they didn't read your email, they wouldn't be able to transmit it to your browser to be displayed on-screen. That Microsoft chooses to read your email but still serves up irrelevant, obtrusive advertisements is their problem.
     
  • Actually (Score:5, Insightful)

    by El Lobo (994537) on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:27AM (#20895397)
    Actually, I don't think they "read" the mail. Yes, they have some program that "scans" your mails and indexes it in some way, and then , it shows you the ads if they find some key words. Technically, they are scanning your mail, but a program cannot "read" (ie. process and "understand" the writing). So is it a violation of privacy? May be... this is a border line case.
  • Re:What a crock (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rilister (316428) on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:33AM (#20895451)
    Well, I guess it all depends if they reference historical information to serve those ads or not.

    If I were google, I'd build up a statistical record of what words come up most often per user which would be real useful in deciding what "the doors" means in context: is an ad for a record shop relevant or Home Depot?

    Then, of course, that statistical record would start to become an accurate record of who you are after a while. Anyone know the answer?

  • Okay, and? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by pembo13 (770295) on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:35AM (#20895461) Homepage
    Google has scripts reading your email: no one forces you to use Gmail. Microsoft produces an operating system to which they give US government agencies secret access: there is generally no legal requirement to use Windows, but it's darn hard to avoid it.
  • Re:What a crock (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:35AM (#20895463)
    There's a difference between RELAYING data, and MINING it.
  • by Mr_Mirsal (1155535) on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:51AM (#20895551) Homepage
    Even if it wasn't a miserable FUD attempt, I would say 'so what ?'
    E-mails are sent through the internet in fully readable plain text.
    You don't want anyone to read your email ? Then encrypt it. Period.

  • Re:What a crock (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:02AM (#20895583)
    There's a difference between MINING data, and READING it.
  • Gmail (Score:4, Insightful)

    by u235meltdown (940099) <qayshp.gmail@com> on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:18AM (#20895693) Homepage
    I have been using Gmail since 2004, and am glad to say I haven't deleted an email (other than spam) yet. It is understandable that there are privacy concerns with this type of archival of personal data. Personally, I think that the benefits outweigh the potential risks. I don't discuss anything too private over email or the internet for that matter because of the fact that it is less personal. The ease of having all my multiple personal, work, and school email addresses forward to one globally accessible inbox is just worth it to me.
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:20AM (#20895705) Journal

    Lets be honest here, this is MICROSOFT we are talking about here warning us that Google doesn't respect our privacy. Well they should know shouldn't they? The creators of the least secure OS ever made, the OS that updates itself when we don't want it too, that has a EULA that gives MS the right to snoop around on your system, read whatever it wants and alter whatever it wants and if it destroys anything, too bad. The OS that has been known to phone home until someone found out and then they disable it saying that they couldn't identify you from just your IP and credit card number and every other bit of personal information they could find.

    Sure google reads your gmail, we know this. It is how it works, they are very clear about it and if you don't like it, don't use it. It is not like google has a monopoly or anything they have been found guilty of abusing on several continents, that forces you to use their services.

    Sometimes I think MS needs to hire a person to increase their public relations. The task would not be complex. He just stands next to the microphone at MS press-release center, and whenever an MS employee walks up to it, he zaps them.

    Or put more simple? MS if you want to improve your image, SHUT UP. Do NOT say a single thing for the next year and your image will go through the roof, because you just keep saying these insane things that everyone with a brain can see for the complete and utter lying bullshit it really is.

    FUD only works when you got a shred of believability left. If Steve Ballmer proclaimed that the sky was blue, I would doubt that.

    What next, Bush calling Blair a bit of thicky who lied to his voters about Iraq? Britney Spears calling the Spice Girls a bad act? Germany commenting on the US tendency to start wars?

    Really, MS needs to hire a public relation officer who knows that less is more. The only thing Steve Ballmer should be allowed to say in a year is, Hi, these are the profit figures for last year. Thank you, goodbye.

    I wonder if the shareholders can demand he keeps his mouth shut because he is damaging the value of the company.

  • Re:What a crock (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:21AM (#20895711)
    Jesus what are you blabbing about? I could just as easily claim MS filed for that patent to prevent others from delivering advertising through the OS. You see, until they actually do something with the idea, you can't say jack shit about their motives.

    Gmail exists now. It catalogs and stores information about your emails now. I personally do not have a problem with this, but saying that MS cannot complain about it because of something they might implement in some future OS at some point in the future is retarded and asinine.
  • Re:What a crock (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Macthorpe (960048) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:24AM (#20895731) Journal

    So what, M$ wont read your email, they will just monitor their (P)OS as it reads every file on your hard disk
    I think something outrageous like that actually requires you to back it up with a source, don't you?
  • by this great guy (922511) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:29AM (#20895771)
    I would add that virtually every email service provide already reads your emails... how does Balmer think anti-spam technogologies work ? Duh ! (Notable exception: greylisting.)
  • Re:Actually (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Angostura (703910) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:33AM (#20895791)
    Precisely. Unfortunately for Ballmer, if he had said 'analyse' or 'parse' it wouldn't sound nearly as sexy as 'read'.
  • Re:What a crock (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bytesex (112972) on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:23AM (#20896069) Homepage
    That is disingenious to say the least. You purposely mix up what's happening through either intent or technology in both systems. I'm no MS apologist, and I like Google very much, and I do realize there is a whole spectrum between 'parsing to make fit on screen' and 'passing onto the NSA', but MS' intent is to make the text be seen by you (which is nice, and has only my interest at heart), while Google's intent is also to use your text for other, commercial purposes (which clearly doesn't really have my interest at heart). To pretend that it's essentially the same thing is bad form, man. It doesn't add anything to the discussion.
  • by simong (32944) on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:31AM (#20896129) Homepage
    Ballmer's job is to serve FUD to those who read Forbes Magazine for the articles, and he's done it again. He plants seeds of doubt in the minds of people who probably have their emails printed out for them, and can't tell the difference between Gmail, Hotmail or the corporate Lotus Notes system that's rapidly coming to the end of its life. The sysadmins will shortly recommend dumping Notes for a system based on Zimbra [zimbra.com], but as the CEO goes to sign it off at a tenth of the price of an equivalent MS Exchange system, he notices in the high level description that it supports Gmail... wait, isn't that a bad thing? The proposal is rejected and the CEO's doubt sets in motion the installation of a shiny new Exchange system, and Microsoft take another scalp thanks to Speaks To CEOs' ramblings.
  • spam filters (Score:2, Insightful)

    by aivarsk (725586) on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:40AM (#20896197) Homepage
    Spam filters "read" your email so don't use them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @06:49AM (#20896785)
    Have you tried FireGPG [tuxfamily.org]?
  • Re:What a crock (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GPL Apostate (1138631) on Monday October 08, 2007 @06:56AM (#20896847)
    no matter how much you'd like to dramatize it, a bot collecting statistics from your email (which you knowingly agreed to if your using gmail) is not a criminal offense.

    And technically, it's not spyware, since spyware usually resides on the client's machine.

    if google wants to collect data on my account and throw up targeted ads for me why should i give 2 shakes of a donkey's dick about it?

    I dunno. Some of us do care. We do not approve of our communications being 'harvested' and used to direct targeted advertising (propaganda) against us.

    The whole 'they came for the gypsies...' bromide could be rattled off here.
  • by R2.0 (532027) on Monday October 08, 2007 @08:51AM (#20898069)
    The thing is, hearing Microsoft criticising another company's business practices vis a vis privacy is singularly jarring. Remember, this is the company who just recently forced users of their software to install a patch, whether they said "No" or not. And then didn't want to tell those users about it.

    It is perfectly acceptable to agree with concerns about a company's activities, but question the motives of those making the objections. It's like a murderer criticising a drug dealer - it seems the murderer is trying to make himself look better in comparison.
  • Re:What a crock (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @08:57AM (#20898145)

    I dunno. Some of us do care.

    Rightfully so. The thing is, I would be that the majority of those "who care" are also fairly computer illiterate and have scores of cookies and spyware on their machine they don't know about and probably wouldn't stop going to sites that knowingly track you via cookies even if they where told about it because they enjoy the services of those sites too much.

    "Privacy" and "Internet" simply just don't mix. Ask any web developer. There's a lot more hoops to jump through and costs to secure a site than it is to make a public site. Privacy and security where not a consideration when the Internet was formed.

    Then ask anyone who uses MySpace, Facebook, or other social networking site if they value privacy on the Internet? They'll probably say "yes". Then ask they why they keep using said social networking sites if they value privacy? It doesn't matter how "safe" they try to make it, it's not a smart idea to use it if you truly value privacy. Get a diary instead.

    I guess it's akin to sex. Avoiding pregnancy/disease was not part of the design of sex. We slapped on some fixes such as condoms, the pill, etc, but the only true way to avoid the risk is to not do it. With that said, the only way to avoid the risk for those who value privacy is to not use the internet. But the Internet, just like sex is too damn good to give up (procreation aside). So, we're more than happy to take some risk. Some of us are better educated or simply less lazy and take steps to reduce the risk as far as possible by setting up firewalls, virus protection, research what sites are ok to visit.

    Others, simply don't care. They'll visit every website link thrown at them in an email, never bother to secure their computers once they start using them, etc. Oddly, it's kind of scary the parallels I can draw between sex and the Internet... *shudder*

  • by speaker of the truth (1112181) on Monday October 08, 2007 @09:00AM (#20898201)

    If either of those things were happening, I'd care.
    The thing is, no-one knows if they're happening because Google doesn't say. My post here [slashdot.org] pulls out quotes from their privacy policy that certainly hints at them storing the information gleaned as part of their profile about you, with the original person who put me onto this lack of denying over here. [slashdot.org]
  • Re:What a crock (Score:2, Insightful)

    by smitth1276 (832902) on Monday October 08, 2007 @09:43AM (#20898773)
    You're talking to a forum full of people who don't get that sort of nuance. Witness the outcry over similarly impersonal NSA datamining of international phone calls, and it's sudden rhetorical transformation to "spying". Watch, though.. those same hyperbolic partisan types will jump to defend Google using arguments that would work exactly as well for the NSA.
  • Re:What a crock (Score:4, Insightful)

    by budgenator (254554) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:46PM (#20901169) Journal
    There does seem to be a philosophical disconnect there; the real question is can a machine read an email or listen to a phone call? Obviously the answer is no listening and reading are activities that only intelligent sentient beings can do. As long as google's algorithms sever out adds without human intervention or revelation to a third party, it's not an invasion of privacy, as long as no human listens to or reads the transcripts of the NSA wiretap no unreasonable search has happened.
  • Re:What a crock (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RedWizzard (192002) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:00PM (#20903779)

    I think you missed the point ... What I was talking about was at which point the mail some else sends, their mail, becomes the mail you receive, your mail ie. the sender versus the recipient and whose email is being read. So as the receiver getting email into my private ISP provided account I have agreed to nothing with google nor can the sending by use gmail imply that I have.
    Google don't insert ads into outgoing emails. I assumed you were talking about receiving email with a Gmail account because those are the only emails Google scan (at least for targeted advertising).
  • Re:What a crock (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dhalka226 (559740) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:18PM (#20903951)

    Watch, though.. those same hyperbolic partisan types will jump to defend Google using arguments that would work exactly as well for the NSA.

    Even if you are right that the technical details or similar enough that the same defenses would apply to both sides (and I'm not conceding that, just not arguing it), it brings one simple thought to mind:

    There is a difference between what a private company does and what the US government does. If you don't think that is so, check out that Constitution thing and the great length to which its authors went to describe and limit the powers of government. Then they went on to create that Bill of Rights majig that even though they had just mentioned what power Congress had, further went out to explicitly deny them the ability to do certain other things.

    Besides which, I am not under any obligation to use Gmail if I disagree with their scanning my email to serve advertisements; there are dozens of companies that offer basically the same services. If I didn't like any of them, I could buy a domain and set up my own email services.

    While I suppose technically speaking one isn't required to use AT&T, that's becoming less and less true in the US as they are allowed to reconstitute their monopoly. And it was done in secret. And they knew it was wrong and very possibly illegal to cooperate with the government in this manner, or they wouldn't suddenly by spending tens of thousands of dollars to lobby Congress to grant them immunity for it.

    But really, the bottom line is this: Google can not kill me. Google can not take away my freedom. Nobody can force me to use Google, and they know only what I tell them in some way or another. The government can do all of this. They can, as we have seen, compel others to do the same--certainly with a warrant but in this case even without.

    Stepping away from the particular example: If a person lives at home, their parents could read their mail. They could thumb through their drawers. They could read anything that was lying around. This isn't good, but the person may or may not care. Do you think the same level of disinterest would abound if some stranger came into the house to do exactly the same thing? Do you think students don't have different views on other students hearing them talk about things that maybe they shouldn't be talking about, versus teachers doing it?

    The actor involved in a situation absolutely does matter even if the situations were otherwise technically identical.

    And lest we forget, there are laws involved with what the NSA did. A federal court has struck the program down; while I wouldn't be surprised to see it reversed on appeal to what has become a conservative US Supreme Court, assuming they choose to hear the issue, that is currently the prevailing ruling in at least one federal district. It was struck down not only as an issue of privacy, but one of free speech, and separation of powers, and in violation of the requirements that were passed in the act that established the FISA court to begin with. In other words, it seems that what the NSA did was both illegal and unconstitutional.

    (Incidentally, the NSA spying on US phone calls should turn any American's stomach. The NSA and CIA were always intended to be foreign intelligence gathering services, and were specifically enjoined from domestic spying. That was supposed to be done by the FBI according to established legal procedures, i.e. e.g. subpoenas and burdens of proof and evidence.)

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