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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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  • What a crock (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nacturation ( 646836 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <noitarutcan>> on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:26AM (#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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rilister ( 316428 )
      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?

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

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:35AM (#20895463)
      There's a difference between RELAYING data, and MINING it.
      • Re:What a crock (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:02AM (#20895583)
        There's a difference between MINING data, and READING it.
        • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:46AM (#20895867)
          I'm a robot, and reading data IS mining to me, you insensitive clod!
        • 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 kjart ( 941720 )

          Ah yes, because automated data mining is perfect and requires no human intervention or tuning. It's also certain that nobody would ever verify whether it was working or not.

    • by Aqua OS X ( 458522 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:38AM (#20895815)
      It's also worth noting that Hotmail doesn't send or receive many of its messages. Microsoft is going that extra mile by making sure that we also don't read our email.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bytesex ( 112972 )
      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 i
    • What gets me about this Ballmer statement is that e-mail, unless you specifically encrypt it, is insecure by nature. It's all sent plaintext so you have to assume that anything you send can potentially be read by some other party. I have no idea whether comcast is reading my e-mail, or anyone in between that has the know-how to capture the packets.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jonnyj ( 1011131 )

      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

      • 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
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Google has openly fought against the US governments ability to read your email. That is they only allow the feds into read YOUR email IFF they have a warrent on you. MS AND yahoo actually allowed the feds in during W's illegal action. In addition, in China, both MS and Yahoo cooperate with the chinese gov. in giving up email. Google has cooperated with the Chinese gov, but nowhere near what MS and Yahoo do. Just like in America, they do not give chinese gov. carte Blanche ability to read the emails.

      For th
    • Re:What a crock (Score:5, Informative)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @11:19AM (#20899207) Homepage Journal
      Yep and frankly anyone that thinks Email is any more private than a postcard is an idiot.
      Just a news flash but your email is sent across the internet as plain text! It is not secure in any way shape or form.
      If you want email a private massage then you should encrypt it and send it as an attachment.
      I don't care if it is hotmail, gmail, or outlook.
  • Actually (Score:5, Insightful)

    by El Lobo ( 994537 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:27AM (#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.
  • by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:29AM (#20895415) Homepage Journal

    It's official... Google reads your email! Be afraid! Be VERY afraid! It must be true, because Steve Ballmer of Microsoft says so, and we all know how decent Steve is!


    Excuse me, I got carried away here for just a second. :-)

    By the way, if you don't want anyone to read your email, don't use gmail, hotmail or yahoo mail... But do use GPG and a local email client, other than Outlook... mmmmmkay?
    • by Mr_Mirsal ( 1155535 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:51AM (#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.

      • by this great guy ( 922511 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:29AM (#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.)
        • by rbochan ( 827946 )

          ... how does Balmer think anti-spam technogologies work ?...

          If hotmail is any indication, not well at all.

      • 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.
        Can you then post the entire contents of your inbox please? After all, you don't care do you?
      • by mce ( 509 )

        You don't want anyone to read your email ? Then encrypt it. Period.

        That's fine with non-webmail. But with webmail (assuming you even can encrypt it in that case, which I doubt very much with any of the available providers) at least the webmail provider must read the mail in order to display it to you.

        More importantly, there's a big difference between being able to catch individual mails along the way and reading and analysing my 20 (yes: two-zero) years of e-mail history.

        • You could implement PGP or similar in Javascript. Possibly you could do this as a Firefox extension, which would ask you for the PGP key when you went to the webmail site. Then, all of the mail would be encrypted everywhere except the browser. Knowing Firefox, someone has probably done this already, but since I don't use webmail I am too lazy to check.
    • Just as a note, you can use gmail through POP and SMTP... I haven't touched gmail's web interface in a LONG time. So if I used some kind of encryption system (which I don't, because I don't care if Google (or anyone else) reads my email), it would be just as secure as any other mail system.

      Also, as other posters have pointed out, there's things like FireGPG for those who do use the web interface.
  • To watch the said video, you'll need to sign up for a mydeo account, which is apparently not free, but a 31 day limited trial.
  • so... (Score:3, Informative)

    by cosmocain ( 1060326 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:36AM (#20895469)
    From TFA:

    Microsoft and Google have been gearing up for a major war over software as a service and web-based applications, with Google offering Gmail and Google docs, and Microsoft offering Hotmail, Office and preparing for Windows Live Office.

    it's just the last sentence and it contains every justification of mixing up the verbs "to read" and "to process". reading is something done by humans, not some word-sensitive processing for freaking advertisements. everyone a bit tech-savvy knows about googles somehow strange interpretation of privacy - so: if you don't like it, don't ******* use it.
  • I knew it (Score:5, Funny)

    by jsse ( 254124 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:37AM (#20895479) Homepage Journal

    Ballmer says of Google, 'they read your mail and we don't.'
    Now I know why you don't respond to my comments and complains, you just simply don't read them at all.

    Your honesty as a corporate leader shines us all.
    • by jkrise ( 535370 )
      LOL! Not to mention Microsoft doesn't read those messages from "Click here to send Feedback to Microsoft".
      • by RuBLed ( 995686 )
        You should know better, don't feed trolls :D

        I had really wished sometime ago that it would be displayed this way: "Click here to send FUD back to Microsoft"

        It would make more sense, I would be encouraged to click it...
  • by Verte ( 1053342 )
    I quite like contextual adds. My Inbox is full of Coyotos and Hurd related emails, so I get to have a good chuckle every time I get advertisements for Minix 3. Nice try Andy.

    And what is with the gasps? If you have sensitive mail, you need to be using pop3 and encrypting it. That's just common sense.
  • by darthflo ( 1095225 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:50AM (#20895549)
    The video mentioned in TFS is, of course, a fake. The actual quote was this: Ballmer: [...] they read your mail and we don't, but our Developers, Developers, Developers are working on that! Developers, Developers, Developers...

    After a few minutes of his "developers" chant, Ballmer was reported as throwing chairs at every googly seeming person in the room.
  • did he not get the memo from?
    "m$ and google and are evil"

    oh wait...
  • Ok, so Google's Gmail "reads" my emails. So what?!

    1. Email is transmitted in plain text anyways... so anyone can read it.
    2. My machine could be compromised. Someone could use a keylogger or other method to capture my keystrokes and read what would be my email.
    3. I could run my own mail server and read my user's mail.

    To combat 1 and 3, I could use PGP or GNUpg (or some other means, for that matter) and encrypt my mail. Privided that I distribute my keys via key server or some other non-mail related means,
    • by vux984 ( 928602 )
      Email isn't a secure medium. Get over it.

      Are you saying that we have to 'secure' it before we can expect any level of privacy?

      My home isn't completely secure. Get this - I have windows covered in GLASS for crying out loud... GLASS. Can you beleive that?! I don't know what I was thinking, but there you have it! I really haven't got a clue why the place isn't full of hobos and bums with naught but a lousy glass barrier being all that's keeping them out.

      Or maybe, just maybe, it doesn't have to locked down lik
      • I know my email could be read by my ISP, but I mostly trust them not to do it. And I would feel pretty angry and upset if I found out an employee was sitting their reading all my email for kicks. I would expect that he be fired at the very least once caught. If I had anything truly private that I didn't want to risk I would take it upon myself to secure it betterl but just because I didn't encrypt something that doesn't mean I expect or give permission to everyone on the planet to read it.

        Even if your ISP specifically said, "We will read your email for the purposes of serving you targetted advertising"? That's what Google does, and if you've signed up and agreed to this, there's not a single reason you have to be angry at them for doing so. If you don't like it, don't use it. If you didn't read that part of the sign-up process, that's your own fault - you still agreed to it.

        As many others have already pointed out, email is like a postcard, not a letter. If I send you a postcard, I ful

      • by gbobeck ( 926553 )

        My home isn't completely secure. Get this - I have windows covered in GLASS for crying out loud... GLASS. Can you beleive that?! I don't know what I was thinking, but there you have it! I really haven't got a clue why the place isn't full of hobos and bums with naught but a lousy glass barrier being all that's keeping them out.

        Your analogy is a bit lacking at best. Glass still provides some access control, albeit very minimal. How would this compare to open / no glass windows? Glass may allow the bums an

  • 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?
    • by Aladrin ( 926209 )
      I was thinking 'filter out viruses', but spam works as well. The answer is that all email providers 'read' your mail in this respect, but only Google displays ads based on the content. (That I know of.)

      Do I care? Not a whit. As far as I know, the information gleaned from the 'read' isn't stored anywhere after the page is loaded (IE: it's only ever in RAM) and no human ever does the reading. If either of those things were happening, I'd care.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        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 [] 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. []

  • Gmail (Score:4, Insightful)

    by u235meltdown ( 940099 ) <<qayshp> <at> <>> on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:18AM (#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 @05:20AM (#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.

  • Pot, meet Kettle (Score:3, Interesting)

    by waferhead ( 557795 ) <waferhead AT yahoo DOT 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...

  • Just encrypt the real mails with GPG and it won't matter if they "read" it.
    Just force everyone else to use it aswell.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @05:59AM (#20895937)
    I hate people who quote out of context. At least be complete.

    they read your mail and we don't ...have to because we know everything we want to know about you through the phoning home of our OS.
  • Stave Ballmer sometimes have trouble expressing himself verbally, so here is what he meant to say: "The algorithms that reads your mail on a gmail acoount are more advanced than the algorithms that reads your mail on a hotmail account."

    Which is true, so no reason to get angry at him.

  • by PinkyDead ( 862370 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @06:10AM (#20895997) Journal
    Pretty damning evidence:

    Re: Reading user's gmail


    Sounds like a great idea.

  • by adnonsense ( 826530 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @06:19AM (#20896051) Homepage Journal

    This is like a ginormous soot-stained, pitted, dented and immobile pot which has been simmering for the last twenty-five years calling the nearby, newish and rapidly expanding kettle made from stainless steel which is now somewhat more rusty than it was in 1998, black.

    BTW Google reads your slashdot comments too.

    • by argent ( 18001 )
      BTW Google reads your slashdot comments too.

      And the Wayback Machine keeps them forever! Muahahahah!
  • Last I checked: Hotmail has a spam filter. It also has a junk mail folder.

    I assume it isn't psychic and somewhere down the line, a bot reads the mail's content, matches it in both a baysian and literal way and makes a decision as to whether the mail was unsolicited.

    Gmail reads the mail, does the same, but also sends keywords to an adbot.

    Both read your mail Ballmer, you twit.

    The only difference is you guys weren't smart enough to attach the spam bot to the ad bot.
  • by simong ( 32944 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @06:31AM (#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 [], 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 )
    Spam filters "read" your email so don't use them.
  • by rs232 ( 849320 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @06:49AM (#20896273)
    "When you register for certain Microsoft services, we will ask you to provide personal information. The information we collect may be combined with information obtained from other Microsoft services and other companies. We use cookies and other technologies to keep track of your interactions with our sites and services to offer a personalised experience" []
  • 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

    • by Pecisk ( 688001 )
      Yes, Google or Microsoft is interested in my relationship issues, creative plans in small scale, dreams, mailing list messages, etc. They would be if they would have perfect AI, better than human, to extract such info from my emails. Lucky, I am writing mostly in Latvian.


      Yes, there are some things to be worried about webmails, as security of email services, because then someone who knows me or wants to know about my plans could extract _concrete_ info. But "reading" such emails in masses...I think that
      • by MrMickS ( 568778 )
        Yes, there are some things to be worried about webmails, as security of email services, because then someone who knows me or wants to know about my plans could extract _concrete_ info. But "reading" such emails in masses...I think that even Microsoft would agree about it as big waste of computer/personal/whatever time. And if you are in competition, with, well, Google, then using our own email server would be kinda natural, I guess. Also if you don't like that they make some coin on your emails then also do
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by brkello ( 642429 )
      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
  • ... as long as they don't make sleeping pills out of it and don't share the profits with me!
  • by Zigurd ( 3528 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @08:10AM (#20896999) Homepage
    Back in the day when networks were all wired, and mail servers were all on the premises, and computers had 80286 CPUs, it might have made sense for mail to be sent and stored in cleartext. Nowadays, storing mail and documents that way, and sending them over unprotected WiFi access points, is a huge privacy and security hole. It's a bit shocking that not even open source mail clients and servers still, by default, don't secure payload with encryption.

    As for Webmail, Web-based backup services could not even be sold without encrypting payload. How is it that lack of encryption is still acceptable in Webmail?
  • This tactic is an effective one for the FUDers becasue they can count on the general citezenry beign too stupid to comprehend the difference between an algorithm that sifts large quantiies of data looking for patterns and some guy in a black suit personally perusing your mail.
  • Mr. Ballmer, those who dwell in glass houses should not throw stones. Or chairs.
  • But we ( Microsoft ) read everythign else on your pc. And we see that license key for works 2.0 is invalid so we are going to disable it for you " for your protection, since you need to upgrade anyway".
  • Steve: (Score:4, Funny)

    by xrayspx ( 13127 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @10:20AM (#20898443) Homepage
    It's not that we love Google reading our mail, it's that we just don't like you.


    The Internet

Today is the first day of the rest of your lossage.