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Microsoft's Ballmer: Google Reads Your Mail 264

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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  • by lpontiac ( 173839 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:17AM (#20895685)
    (ie pass it through software which matches up tokens against a database containing other tokens) .. then how do they filter out spam?
  • Pot, meet Kettle (Score:3, Interesting)

    by waferhead ( 557795 ) <waferhead@NOspAM.yahoo.com> on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:20AM (#20895709)
    Didn't Hotmail have some brouhaha awhile back where the fine detail of the EULA basically said they OWNED any email/IP that went through their service?

    Maybe I'm just delusional again...

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

    by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:30AM (#20895775)
    ermm, no.

    no matter how much you'd like to dramatise it, a bot collecting statistics from your email (which you knowingly agreed to if your using gmail) is not a criminal offence.

    People don't use gmail for privacy, they use it for it's great features and large storage. if google want's 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? they aren't scamming me or keeping tabs on my sex life or political agenda - their selling advertising space, nothing more.

  • Re:What a crock (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kcbanner ( 929309 ) * on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:36AM (#20895805) Homepage Journal
    Ok firstly:
    This is something called "digital" at some point something is going to actually read your message! Yes! It will! If your scared why not encrypt all your email? The so called "people" reading this email will not be able to see it plaintext, and the machines digest it as normal.
    Everything reads the goddamn mail, its information going over wires. Your analogy breaks down with the real mail because it never has to be opened to be transmitted...email has to be "read" by all the damn routers it goes through, smtp servers, etc.
    In conclusion, I wish everyone would get some sense and realize that real mail has a separate set of rules than email.
  • Re:What a crock (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RedWizzard ( 192002 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @06:06AM (#20895987)

    Now here is a interesting point which no one has tackled yet. When I go out to my letter box, and open by letter box and look inside my letter box I see 'my' mail, it is no longer the mail of the people who sent it to me, it is my mail, and any unauthorised person who attempts to open my mail, or intercept my mail or read my mail, has committed a criminal offence.
    There are several problems with that analogy. You clearly own your letterbox, but do you own your Gmail inbox? It's on their server. There's a clear argument that you own the account, but the actual contents of the storage dedicated to that account? There's certainly no legal recourse if Google deletes your mail accidentally.

    At what point has Google delivered your mail? When it's in your inbox? When it's been downloaded to your computer? What if they are scanning and indexing it before they move it to your inbox?

    And unencrypted email is not like a sealed letter, it's like a postcard. This is important because privacy of correspondence laws in the US are derived from the 4th Amendment and are therefore restricted by the requirement for a "reasonable expectation of privacy". It's hard to argue that you have a reasonable expectation of privacy when the sender sends the correspondence in plain text and with no prior knowledge of what systems it might pass through.

    So when a gmail user sends me an email, google has invaded my privacy as the email receiver and if they attempt to send me a targeted add based upon the contents of my email, have they committed an offence and opened and read my mail with out my authorisation.
    It's doubtful that Google have committed any sort of offense, even if they have actual people reading your mail. Certainly Google would have a very strong defense if they can show that they are following the terms you agreed to when you created the account. Further, a ruling against allowing Google to scan email to target advertising would have far reaching consequences: it would effectively ban the use of spam and virus filters by ISPs as well. I suspect a court would be very unlikely to make such a ruling.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @06:30AM (#20896127)
    Create a page on a non US server not associated with you. Make sure the page is buried and unlinked. Get a friend to send you an email with that page in it, hotmail included. Check the apache logs.

  • by MrMickS ( 568778 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @07:26AM (#20896567) Homepage Journal
    I don't understand the popularity of e-mail services like google mail, yahoo mail, hotmail etc. If you read the terms and conditions in them all you are signing away your privacy rights to the contents of your e-mail as soon as you sign up. Sadly the majority of people signing up don't understand this. They see the names Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, and don't bother reading very closely.

    Though I'm a little skeptical about his motives Ballmer is doing some good here. Of course it won't get past the MS is bad crowd on slashdot but, if it gets enough coverage, it may make people think about what they trust these email systems with.

    I've run my own e-mail since the early '90s and see no reason to want to change now. I view these systems as similar to routing all of your snail mail through a third party that opens it, analyzes it, delivers it. They also sign you up to a bunch of mailing lists for products that relate to the things in your post and selling off any statistical information they can get.

  • Re:What a crock (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jonnyj ( 1011131 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @07:44AM (#20896729)

    Be careful of typical knee-jerk Slashdot reactions that say Microsoft == Evil and Google == Good. There is a legitimate privacy point here. If I click on a context-sensitive advertisement that's based on the content of my emails, the advertiser now knows something about me that he didn't know before. That gives the advertiser the opportunity to treat me differently from other enquirers.

    How long until advertisers discover that it's more profitable to withhold information about cheap or steeply discounted products from potential customers who've previously received emails from luxury car manufacturers, for example? I don't know if it's possible with the present generation of Google's technology, but is there anything ion the Gmail terms and conditions that prevent it?

  • Re:What a crock (Score:4, Interesting)

    by atamido ( 1020905 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @10:11AM (#20898341)
    There is a big difference. And I can assure you that when I worked for Microsoft, in their MSN department, I used to personally read the email of quite a few strangers. It was all to try and fix different issues, but you have to read the from and to lines to find messages. And you can't help but see parts of the message when looking at the headers and such. Trust me, whatever you may think, other people's email just isn't that interesting.

    Of course, when you can read a person's email, see personal information and order receipts, and read the email of most of their friends, you can learn quite a bit about a person. Enough to screw with their head in hilarious ways. Not that I ever would have done that, of course.

    As an aside, there are a few things worth mentioning about their backend, at least when I used to work there. They store their email as a single plain text, like most sensible email servers. They don't break it down into objects like Exchange. They log the past 40 or so IP addresses that you logged into your account from. They track the date/time of every single time your password is changed. If you had MSN dialup or DSL, they authenticated against your email every time you connected, using RADIUS I believe. Most send/receive issues are not Hotmail's servers fault. Hotmail's spam filter is probably the worst in existence. MSN's Usenet servers would randomly (around 50%) reject correct passwords. We would tell people their clients were flakey, but it was in fact the authentication connection between the Usenet and Email servers that didn't quite work.
  • by zimage ( 6623 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @11:51AM (#20899637) Homepage
    If Hotmail checks your incoming email for spam and viruses, then aren't they "reading" your mail just as Google does? Google has a computerized parser that looks at the context of your email and displays relevant ads. Hotmail has a computerized parser that looks at the context of your email and discards it if it's "bad". That seems like the same kind of reading to me.

  • by brkello ( 642429 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:34PM (#20903517)
    I don't understand why you don't understand. Webmail is easy to set up and there is never a question if your can get access to it. Any system connected to the Internet will have a browser and therefor you will have access to your mail. Some people don't want to (or know how) to have their own domain and run their own mail server.

    So you read the terms and conditions and you are worried because your privacy rights could be violated. Do you send e-mail to anyone with these accounts? Do you encrypt your e-mail? Unless you send all your mail to other people running their own mail server and encrypt all your mail...then everything is moot. If you wrote terms and services to your own e-mail system it would say the same thing since you can't even guarantee your own privacy as soon as you click send.

    These sites offer free space that they backup for all for just showing you a few ads. And not all of them sign you up for mailing lists.

    Really, gmail is a win-win situation for the company and consumers. I can understand if some people would not want to use it. But I can't understand why someone would not be able to understand why everyone else does use it.

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