April 23, 2004

GMail - Unintended uses

So, Nicole Wong of Google said she couldn't think of an instance where they would tell us what to do with our GMail accounts. I'd like to use it exclusively to send myself and other GMail account-holders encrypted messages and files. It'll be interesting to see what kind of advertisements get served up in that case, but what is even more interesting than having a free GB of storage out there with Google's reliability are the additional uses people will think of.

For instance, you may have heard of freenet. It's an encrypted peer-to-peer file-sharing network that is highly anonymous. Right now, when you install freenet it defaults to using 256MB of your hard drive space to store the encrypted contents of the freenet network. You can't know what portion of freenet your computer stores without breaking the encryption. (Good luck. Let me know how that turns out.) How long do you think it will take some hacker to figure out how to use GMail's 1GB of storage space as part of freenet or a similar network? About two seconds.

While this use might eventually irritate Google as it'd be rare that any human ever saw their ads, in the case where I just use the space to send myself encrypted files I want to backup, I will still occasionally find myself on the GMail site looking at ads, some of which I might even click on. They'll have trouble targeting ads at me, perhaps I'll be offered security or encryption-related products! But, on balance, I think that my proposed usage (the personal one, not the freenet one) would constitute such a small percentage of users and would only moderately thwart their purposes, and hence should be allowed.

Once people write scripts to interact with the site for other purposes that don't send human eyeballs to GMail, I bet we'll see a turnaround on Ms. Wong's/Google's stated position.

Posted by brianwc at April 23, 2004 10:27 AM
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