by June 7, 2004 0 comments

When I first heard about it, my reaction was “Is this an April Fool’s joke?” This reaction was to the news that Google was offering a whopping 1 GB for keeping your e-mail, which is around 200 times the capacity of your current mailbox, called Gmail. Gmail claims to make e-mail access faster by eliminating folders and introducing ‘labels’ which offer an alternative way of categorizing your messages, and all this at no cost. You do, however, have to put up with ‘contextual’ advertisements right next to your messages.

This is where things get a bit murkier and lead you to lot of speculation. Gmail scans your e-mail and shows you advertisements related to your mail. For example, if your friend writes to you
discussing about your plans to go to a cricket match, you might see advertisements selling you tickets for the big game. This thing has some privacy advocates up in arms, who are against Gmail’s plan of having computers ‘go through’ users’ mail. Google has tried to put this fear to rest by stating that humans won’t read the mail to target ads or related information without the users’ consent. 

Applies to: PC users who require lots of storage space
1 GB of free mail space

Common sense suggests that there is no harm in having a computer program do a harmless word match over your e-mail, especially when you have entrusted the company that is running that match with the responsibility of storing your e-mail in the first place. 

But how can Google offer 1 GB of space to everyone and get away with it, assuming that around 50 million people sign up for this service (still less than the number Hotmail and Yahoo have). Count in the fact that any commercial e-mail provider needs to have backups and redundancies in place, and you’ll have an idea of the kind of requirements we’re looking at. Huge! 

One of the features of Gmail is Labels, which will make e-mail access faster

Google already has data centers running and has perfected the science of distributed computing. Lowering hard disk costs has helped their cause no end. Further, experts believe, that Google is banking on the fact that most users would use nowhere near their allocated limit and would also use advanced algorithms and the monster processing capability at their hands to compress and decompress messages. Thus, even though your message box might offer you 1 GB, Google might be able to stuff in messages of dozens of users in 1 GB on the disk–all this being, of course, transparent to the end user.

Gmail’s privacy policy states “residual copies of e-mail may remain on our systems for some time, even after you have deleted messages from your mailbox or after the termination of your account.” This is another point of contention for those against Gmail. Needless to say, people are unhappy with this. Google counters this by saying that this is standard industry practice. 

Google Network

Service              Site Purpose
Search  The
search engine
News   Collects
news for a variety of    sources over the Internet                                      
Blogger  Google’s
free blog for users to pen their thoughts
Groups  Read
and post in Usenet groups
Gmail     Soon
to be launched e-mail service
Froogle  Find
best prices of products

Privacy concerns are also being raised that Google might use a combination of cookies and Gmail to give an identity to the far anonymous nature of search engine queries. Until now Google only knew the users’ IP address. But if you’re using Gmail, then Google will have access to your personal information that you specified while signing up and can thus map every search to a real world entity. Some of the searches you do, might come back to embarrass you later!

Google will scan your mail and show ads related to your mail

Add to that the fact that Google knows what you write about (Blogger), what you shop for (Froogle), what news you search for (Google News), who your friends are (your Gmail contacts) and Google has the potential to build the kind of database which you never thought was possible.

Many experts are worried about the growing popularity and importance of Google and are calling it ‘the next Microsoft’. Google has countered by saying that users can continue to use bulk of their services, such as search and news, anonymously, that is, without logging in if they like.

All this speculation aside, Google has made available a beta version of Gmail to selected users and the reviews of the service are starting to come out. It’s not the only one to offer 1 GB of storage space for e-mail ( is another one), but considering the kind of reach Google has, Gmail is sure to be a roaring success. 

Kunal Dua

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