Google’s Free Email: A giant free text database

Google is starting free email service to compete with Yahoo Mail and Hotmail/MSN. There are lots of interesting ramifications of this.

Google is the king of targetted text ads. Obviously they’re planning on putting ads on every message.

The free service will be supported by ads that Google automatically places in users’ e-mail messages. The ads will be targeted to the readers of the messages and will correspond to the text in the messages. For instance, an e-mail message about your trouble with your DSL connection might have an ad from SBC Communications in it.

Kinda creepy, when you think about it. Your lover sends you an explicit love note, and the ad sidebar offers a set of “appropriate” links.

The really interesting part is that they’re offering 1GB of storage space per user.

Rosing said the company arrived at the 1 GB figure by estimating how much storage an average user would need to store up to a decade’s worth of e-mail. “It’s a new paradigm where you don’t delete your e-mail,” said Rosing. Instead, users would leave all their messages on Google’s server and search through them as needed.

This is an interesting feature, and it seems like a strange business decision, given the resources required. Of course, typical users will take a long time to fill up 1GB. On the other hand, anyone who needs to hide data can just create an anonymous GMail account and mail more or less whatever they want to it. Need to back up some data? Just email it to your GMail account! I think the space will get used pretty fast. Of course, Google already has a collossal server farm, it’s possible that they just have terabytes of storage lying around, and offering all this space basically costs them nothing, but there’s still got to be some kind of investment to make all that space addressable from basically anywhere. What’s in it for them?

  • The idea that all your mail is indexed, and you never throw any of it away is a step toward your own personal google. Think about it, anything you want to keep track of, or index, you can just mail it to your GMail address. If they add the other portal services, like calendar, address book, bookmarks, RSS feed aggregation, etc, and index all of it, you’ve got a search able index of your online life.
  • Google gets an enormous database of plaintext documents (email) to play with and run their indexing and machine learning algorithms on. Sure, they have the web, but the web has to be crawled, and it’s very different in character from email: less conversational, less about one-to-one communication, marked up with all manner of content-free style info. If Google has, for example, some unsupervised algorithm that attempts to learn semantic categories or topics from text, what an awesome bunch ot training data they’d get from years worth of email for millions of people.

Of course, one thing to remember when saving 10 years worth of email on a public server, is that it’s not really private. Yes, Google may have a strong privacy policy (or not — I don’t know), but no privacy policy will protect your email from a subpoena. I’m not just talking about criminal cases here. Civil courts can subpoena diaries and other writings if they might be appropriate. Imagine, say, the MPAA is suing you for alleged copyright infringement, if they thought you had discussed sharing pirated movies with your friends in email, they could subpoena and pore over your GB of mail, and unlike if you were saving the mail on your PC at home, there’s not really any way you could prevent them from getting it.

PS: Wired has also picked up on the privacy implications of GMail.
PPS: Slashdot is linking a story from The Register (a noted anti-Google source), on the greater implications, including the fact that you won’t necessarily be able to delete your email, even if you delete your account.

Posted in AI. 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Google’s Free Email: A giant free text database”

  1. Christy Says:

    I’m going to get one of those google accounts and store neuroimaging experiment data there. It’ll be interesting to see what sorts of ads they come up with for me.

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