My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Tim O’Reilly on Gmail

For those who are interested in the Gmail story, reading Tim O’Reilly’s essay is a must. By and large, i agree with him on the privacy issue. The only place where we diverge is that i don’t fully agree with: “No one is going to be forced to use gmail. If you don’t like ads in your mail, don’t use the service. Let the market decide.”

People will use Gmail because the incentives are high, but their participation in Gmail is not because the ads make them feel good or because they like ads in their mail. This goes back to my rants on the ickiness factor. Just because it’s being used doesn’t mean it’s being loved or even the right move…

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3 comments to Tim O’Reilly on Gmail

  • It’s true that people will use things that they do not love or that are not “right”. Use does not determine any true moral judgment. But it does go toward determining who wins in our capitalist system. So the objection that you’re raising is very general, and is at the heart of all the decision-making problems that we face as a society. I wish I had some suggestion for a better way, but right now financial success is the best functional measurement of survival in the world.

  • danah, I think you’ve made this sort of point before, and I still don’t think I understand what your position is. There’s clearly a tradeoff — specifically, consumers sacrifice some of their privacy to gain some convenience.

    So are you just lamenting the fact that we as a society don’t value our privacy highly enough to refuse to make these sacrifices? Or are you suggesting that it is in some way wrong (morally, I suppose) for companies to even ask people to make such sacrifices, knowing that people, ever short-sighted, are always going to be willing to make them?

  • Patrick Riley

    how is google’s “privacy invasion” any different than spam filters? All ISP’s already do what gmail does…they scan the content of your email to look for spam and any other filters you’ve asked for.

    the real question is..and i’m surprised no one has brought it up, is the legal consequences of “expectation of privacy.” i’m not sure someone can claim to “expect absolute privacy” with a gmail account. and basically, the courts have been somewhat consistent on the interception of communication: if a communicator is using a “private” channel, like a secure phone line, no one is allowed to intercept their communication, but if a communicator is using a “non-private” channel, messages may be allowed to be intercepted and used for by other people for other purposes.

    see Bartnicki v. Vopper