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Forbes Reviews Google's Gmail [updated]

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the capitalist-tool dept.

Privacy 456

An anonymous reader submits "Forbes.com has what looks to be the first hands-on review of Google's forthcoming Gmail service. Aside from the 1-gigabyte storage, the searching features sound pretty useful for what the writer calls 'email packrats' which I think fits me pretty well. But I can't say I agree with the writer's opinion that privacy fears, as discussed this Slashdot thread, about the Gmail service are 'overblown.' Still and all, I'm curious to try it myself and see what I think." Update: 04/13 00:55 GMT by T : notEA writes "A California state senator is drafting legislation to block Google from releasing Gmail. Seems kind of silly, since all anti-spam filters read your messages anyway."

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456 comments

asdf (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842319)

why arent i dead yet?

Op me please (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842321)

Also, +v. Because I am imPORtant. Also, I like jews.

/mode #slashdot +b gwm76!*@*.aol.com (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842432)

fag

It isn't forced on us.... (5, Insightful)

wo1verin3 (473094) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842322)

I think Google is being VERY forthcoming with information and making it clear what they do and do not do...

Why the uproar... if you're against having them sort your mail and deliver ads based on content, don't sign up!

Re:It isn't forced on us.... (-1)

PollTroll (764214) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842363)

THANK YOU!

these slashfags are idiots.

What do you think of GMail

is it Good [calcgames.org]
or is it Whack [calcgames.org]

Re:It isn't forced on us.... (5, Interesting)

knowles420 (589383) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842406)

or... sign up anyway and waste their precious storage space.

Re:It isn't forced on us.... (5, Insightful)

wo1verin3 (473094) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842477)

I think in the time you'll spend wasting their storage, they'll make their money in ads...

Which is the point of the service for them anyway :)

1GB email isn't that unique (5, Informative)

ron_ivi (607351) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842548)

These guys [spymac.com] also offer 1GB email accounts with less privacy concerns, and no strings attached

I think they started doing it when they saw the demand after the early Apr google announcement and people thought it was an april fools joke.

Disk space is so cheap this isn't an amazing size -- I get 10GB (email+web hosting) for $10/month.

Re:Viagra, It isn't forced on us.... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842559)

Doesn't this mean my spam will contain spam?

And, (5, Insightful)

blunte (183182) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842560)

What makes people think that Hotmail, Yahoo, and other free-mail providers don't intentionally or accidentally archive, parse, or otherwise "invade" their users' privacy to some degree?

In any event, as long as people are sending clear text email across the net, it's all being read and stored by _somebody_.

THINK ABOUT YOUR BREATHING ! (-1)

ThinkAboutYourBreath (735770) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842325)

Hello, and THINK ABOUT YOUR BREATHING

Yes that's right, THINK ABOUT YOUR BREATHING. Why you might ask? Well it's simple!

Your brain usually takes care of breathing FOR you, but whenever you remember this, YOU MUST MANUALLY BREATH! If you don't you will DIE.

There are also MANY variations of this. For example, think about:

  1. BLINKING!

  1. SWALLOWING SALIVA!

  1. HOW YOUR FEET FEEL IN YOUR SOCKS!



In conclusion, the THINK ABOUT YOUR BREATHING troll is simply unbeatable. These 4 words can be thrown randomly into article text trolls, into sigs, into anything, and once seen, WILL FORCE THE VICTIM TO TAKE CARE OF HIS BREATHING MANUALLY! This goes far beyond the simple annoying or insulting trolls of yesteryear.

In fact, by EVEN RESPONDING to this troll, you are proving that IT HAS CLAIMED ANOTHER VICTIM -- YOU!

Re:THINK ABOUT YOUR BREATHING ! (-1, Offtopic)

I_Love_Pocky! (751171) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842389)

I actually wasn't breating, thanks for reminding me... I almost died.

Re:THINK ABOUT YOUR BREATHING ! (1)

I_Love_Pocky! (751171) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842537)

Ok, so now it's not okay to make sarcastic slams on stupid trolls? Thanks a bunch for the offtopic -1. My reply was right on topic with the message I was replying to.

and let us not forget (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842397)

Your painfully inflamed and itchy hemmorhoids.

Re:THINK ABOUT YOUR BREATHING ! (-1, Offtopic)

Conor Collins Troll (770483) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842438)

While we think about our breathing we should also think about how much we hate Conor Collins and all he stands for.

Google Backups! (5, Interesting)

MoxCamel (20484) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842328)

With 1GB of storage, it won't be long until someone writes a perl script
to run backups to multiple Google accounts. The money I'd save on tapes
alone--wow!

Re:Google Backups! (4, Insightful)

Aoverify (566411) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842346)

Don't forget the MP3, SVCD, and Warez sites that will also likely exploit the service.

Re:Google Backups! (5, Interesting)

BandwidthHog (257320) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842373)

Ever consider that the rocket surgeons at Google have already thought of that? You really think they're gonna let their new baby become the world's biggest DC hub?

That's one thing I'm interested in seeing, is where they draw the line when it comes to using a webmail account as an FTP server.

Re:Google Backups! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842393)

And what exactly are they going to do about me storing a large number of small-size encrypted emails on my many accounts?

Re:Google Backups! (3, Insightful)

BandwidthHog (257320) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842407)

I think the workarounds on Google's part may have more to do with automated or seemingly automated transfers of the data rather than the data itself.

Re:Google Backups! (1)

MoxCamel (20484) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842396)

I'd sure be interested in seeing how they can stop it. (seriously, I'm not being argumentative) Even if they limited the attachment size, you'd just break your files up into multiples.

Google will enjoy countering the abusers (5, Interesting)

IceAgeComing (636874) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842519)

Don't forget that they're going to learn a lot about how to defeat various abusive strategies with their own record-keeping and creative ideas. They're going to have the world's best testbed for all kinds of new internet-related issues.

My guess is that they'll experiment with techniques to make sure it's a person, rather than a script. And they'll keep stats on how effective each technique was.

There will be so many interesting research opportunities for them. There are perks to being the world's largest provider of something (MS, Oracle, Google, etc).

Re:Google Backups! (5, Insightful)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842394)

Don't forget the MP3, SVCD, and Warez sites that will also likely exploit the service.

The potential abuse schemes are so many in number that there's no way Google is going to release Gmail into the wild without having defenses in place. To do so would be the ultimate blunder in Web service history, it's just not like Google to do something like that.

Remember, the system right now is in a much talked about yet still closed beta state right now. How they're going to even hand out accounts remains yet to be seen.

Just because they allow 1 GB of historic e-mail storage doesn't mean they can't throtle users to 1 MB per day and make them take over 3 years to get up to that GB... there's so many simple fixes on the table that Google's gonna grab a few of them.

Re:Google Backups! (5, Insightful)

unother (712929) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842459)

I wouldn't be so sure about that...

Just do a search on Google and see how for any vaguely x-rated term, a whole host of fake listings appear.

If they haven't solved this in the six+ months this has been happening, I wouldn't give them full credence for their ability to stop warez action.

Re:Google Backups! (2, Interesting)

netringer (319831) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842502)

Just because they allow 1 GB of historic e-mail storage doesn't mean they can't throtle users to 1 MB per day and make them take over 3 years to get up to that GB... there's so many simple fixes on the table that Google's gonna grab a few of them.
I can think of a simple fix.

Limit the 1GB of space for to TEXT (maybe HTML) only.

They could simply limit space for UUEncoded binaries.

Re:Google Backups! (1)

no longer myself (741142) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842553)

I'm still of the mind that this is an April Fools joke that went too far.

Even if they found a way to restrict it, there is always someone out there with enough incentive to script their way into using multiple accounts and accessing them through proxy lists. The most obvious use would be for the paranoid who's got data they want to store, but have no possible way for it to be confiscated.

I'm not saying that people can't do this already with other internet services, but since Google is practically guaranteeing that your e-mail (data) will never go away, it makes for a very tempting one stop shop.

I imagine they probably will come up with several methods to detect and deter such uses, but the very concept makes such abuse far too tempting to ignore.

Re:Google Backups! (2, Interesting)

NotAnotherReboot (262125) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842410)

The cost of bandwidth and time to send to Gmail would be far more than tapes or hard drives.

There is a 10MB/attachment max, I believe. If you're talking warez, you'd have to be giving people access to the password, at which point someone will delete the files or just change the password.

Re:Google Backups! (2, Interesting)

Famatra (669740) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842474)

"There is a 10MB/attachment max, I believe. If you're talking warez, you'd have to be giving people access to the password, at which point someone will delete the files or just change the password."

If you are talking warez, then I simply forward the attachment(s) to *your*, and anyone elses', gmail accounts so you can download them at your leisure.

This might also be an excellent way to distribute normal software as well. Goto a webpage to download some software, put in your gmail account and click a button and the webpage tells a gmail account to foward software to your gmail address. Aside from the 1st time upload, all the bandwith is being paid for by Google (and the downloaders).

Re:Google Backups! (3, Interesting)

NotAnotherReboot (262125) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842491)

With all of the tracking and saving of messages they will be doing, how smart is it to even attempt something like this?

Re:Google Backups! (4, Interesting)

Carnildo (712617) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842542)

There is a 10MB/attachment max, I believe. If you're talking warez, you'd have to be giving people access to the password, at which point someone will delete the files or just change the password.

No, you don't.

Use the GMail account for storage. On your warez site, when someone clicks a "download" link, the site backend creates a new GMail account for the user, popping up any CAPTCHA system Google is using for the user to solve. It then forwards the approprate e-mails from the storage account to the newly-created account, gives you the username and password for that account, and lets you take care of downloading and reassembling the pieces. During this process, the storage account is perfectly secure.

Re:Google Backups! (4, Informative)

Liselle (684663) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842414)

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, here. You're not the first to invent this exploit, for certain. I am sure that Google has anticipated this, and will silently punish those that take advantage. I'm hearing that Spymac.com has offered a simliar 1GB storage email deal (also free, no less), and they'd have to be world-class idiots not to have some sort of protections in place to keep the system from being abused (I can't find their TOS, or I'd link it for you).

I think once GMail gets out of the gate, we'll see what clever method they have to keep the warez out. Maybe no binary attachments?

Re:Google Backups! (1)

ssbljk (450611) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842428)

yeah, and you'll get even more when you retrieve your backup
some ads based on data's content

Re:Google Backups! (4, Insightful)

Kenja (541830) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842500)

Lets see, I have 1TB of data I back up. At 756kb/second upload speed it will take around 220 hours to back that up to a thousand acounts. Think I'll stick with my AIT library.

Get 1G free email from (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842330)

Go to www.spymac.com and sign up for 1G of free email

Re:Get 1G free email from (0)

durp (769886) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842391)

YEa! Let's go get an e-mail address from nonamecompany.com, errr... I mean spymac.com I'm sorry, but I wont get an e-mail address unless its from an ISP or a big internet company like Yahoo! [yahoo.com]

Re:Get 1G free email from (1)

BandwidthHog (257320) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842499)

Well, I've gotten a *LOT* of positive feedback on my email address, and it's not from an ISP or a big internet company. (Yes, it's that one right next to my username.)

In Google We Trust (5, Insightful)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842335)

E-mail is an inherently insecure medium. For the most part messages are sent in the clear, meaning almost no attempt is made to obfuscate the contents of a message from someone with prying eyes. All Internet service providers store e-mail on a server in order to deliver it to you. Technicians with time on their hands and lousy ethics can--if they want--read your mail. ...
Google insists quite clearly in its privacy policy that "No human reads your mail to target ads or other information without your consent." The process by which it pushes ads at its users is fully automated. Fears about privacy problems inherent with the Gmail service are, in our opinion, overblown.


All of the privacy fears surounding Gmail are based on Google breaching their own privacy policy, which would be an unethical violation of trust. But, since e-mail is unencrypted, every e-mail provider on the face of the Earth has the same ability to breach that trust, including MSN Hotmail, Yahoo, Earthlink, and whoever/whatever you trust your e-mail to.

So, when it comes down to it, the bottom line question is, do you trust Google to do what they say they're going to do? If you don't... just who are you going to trust to handle your e-mail?

If your tin foil hat is firmly on, you can't use e-mail at all. Most people will just not e-mail you rather than jump through security certificate hoops. That means their ISP's SMTP server could be logging everything that's sent from them to you, and you'd be powerless to stop that.

Re:In Google We Trust (5, Interesting)

Vancorps (746090) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842426)

I do trust Google to do what they say they are doing. I often wonder of the legal side-effects of an archiving service like this. Many ISPs don't keep logs any long than 30 days on a pure logistics standpoint. Its easier to be able to say the records don't exist that it is to produce 10 year old emails.

Of course, Google knows content management so maybe they are fully prepared to handle the flood of subpoenas and the likes.

Re:In Google We Trust (1)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842556)

They also could have an admin-side interface to search any given user's account for any given keyword (since that search is already presented to each user) which they'd run when presented with a valid legal warrant.

Re:In Google We Trust (1)

vk2 (753291) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842458)

But, since e-mail is unencrypted, every e-mail provider on the face of the Earth has the same ability to breach that trust, including MSN Hotmail, Yahoo, Earthlink, and whoever/whatever you trust your e-mail to.

Incorect use of word every See.. [hushmail.com]

Re:In Google We Trust (3, Funny)

silvaran (214334) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842483)

If your tin foil hat is firmly on, you can't use e-mail at all.

My tin foil hat doesn't impede my ability to use E-Mail at all. My tin foil body suit, on the other hand...

Re:In Google We Trust (1)

HawkinsD (267367) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842520)

I quite agree.

It boils down to this:

If you have something to say that you don't want other people to read, encrypt it. There are plenty of simple tools [gnupg.org] to help you do this.

And the more we do this, as a matter of routine, the more the non-dweeb population will start to do so.

I dream of a day when you can immediately distinguish spam from personal communications because notes from your brother-in-law will routinely be encrypted.

Re:In Google We Trust (2, Interesting)

Vancorps (746090) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842554)

That whatever higher powers came up with PKI!

Filtering email based on encryption type could also be a trust base. Like you're brother uses stronger encryption and therefore you can trust that it is him and open the email without thinking about what's attached.

The question is, if you make it easier for applications to encrypt data then won't the worms just grab an API and encrypt those emails and the result is the same as before encryption and the loss of millions of cpu cycles?

Just a question, I've thought about setting up my entire family with PGP, then I setup my own mail server and they all just connect to it. Its a lot easier and its still encrypted since these days you can only send smtp through a vpn tunnel.

Re:In Google We Trust (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842561)

So, when it comes down to it, the bottom line question is, do you trust Google to do what they say they're going to do? If you don't... just who are you going to trust to handle your e-mail?
That's a sound application of some basic security concepts. But there's no getting away from the fact that Google is uniquely qualified to abuse their trust, if they choose to do so. They have a well-earned reputation as the best search technologists on the planet, so nobody can forget what they can do if they choose to.

This is another case of people fastening on a particular technology's capability to be abused. What people just don't get is that it's not a matter of tech, but who controls it.

FP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842337)

Wikipedia confirms it! [wikipedia.org]

Sounds neat BUT... (-1)

Pres. Ronald Reagan (659566) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842341)

Should we be so quick to trust Google to handle our email, the very same Google that keeps a record of every search made by every person?

I like Google, but... (-1, Redundant)

Snaller (147050) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842349)

... there is no way in hell i'd store my mail on their servers.

Though if i can make a 1gb attachment to myself then that'll be a handy way to store stuff ;)

There are better reviews (4, Informative)

prostoalex (308614) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842352)

It's hardly a good review. It's descriptive of the features, but the author makes it a point to emphasize apparent facts. He dedicates one paragraph just defending the fact that 1 GB is good for you, as if there was strong opposition and people lined up with posters "Give me back my Hotmail 2 MB!" outside of Google's offices.

Then in two paragraphs he explains what "clear text" means, providing gratuitous analogies of your ISP techs potentially reading your e-mail.

Here're some more interesting first-hand experiences:

GMail review [wholelottanothing.org] , about spam filters and all

Another review [wholelottanothing.org] with screenshots

Review from a current user [fury.com] with pictures and information on ads

Mark Pilgrim [diveintomark.org] , complaining GMail's JavaScript broke his Firefox shortcuts.

Re:There are better reviews (3, Informative)

prostoalex (308614) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842372)



Corrected second link [miscoranda.com] , so it's not a copy of the first one.

Oops.

Fucking danger (4, Interesting)

Burgundy Advocate (313960) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842358)

Even if Google is a "cool" company, I'm not so sure that I really want to let them have rights to my private information as their licence can be interpreted to give them.

Remember, Netscape used to be "cool" too. And Caldera. And so on and so fourth...

Then again, maybe McNealey was right and privacy is dead. What a wonderful world.

Re:Fucking danger (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842401)

> Then again, maybe McNealey was right and privacy is dead.

Of course, you didn't expect to have a gig of email storage for free, no strings attached, did you? You could just settle for your ISP's email and live with the admins grepping the mail folders for dirty words. Or run your own email server.

Re:Fucking danger (3, Insightful)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842417)

Just wondering, who do you presently use for e-mail service? What makes you think they're more trustworthy than Google?

Privacy Concerns? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842366)

I don't think there are any privacy concerns at all. The ad system is no different than their current ad system for seaches. It is 100% automated, no one will actually be reading your mail. If you're concerned about a computer scanning through your e-mail than you can't use any e-mail service that blocks spam and/or viruses as that is what they do.

Threading? (3, Interesting)

TechnologyX (743745) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842368)

"Once you find the one of the e-mail messages that is part of that exchange, Gmail displays it with related messages in the window. Gmail calls these exchanges "conversations." And clicking on one expands it so that more than one relevant message is displayed at a time. A link at the right of the screen says "expand all," and it expands all the messages that are part of a conversation.

Similar to threading in Thunderbird / Moz? That is a pretty handy feature, except under Thunderbird it sometimes tries to thread EVERY message sent from a mailing list, instead of individual topics within the mailing list.

Still, one of my fav mail features.

Re:Threading? (1)

morcego (260031) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842470)

I might be wrong on this one, but I'm not sure I understand how threading is anything new. I have it since when I used ELM. Always had it on my usenet clients. I have it on Mutt.

Am I missing something ? Does GMail have another magic they are calling Threading ?

Re:Threading? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842480)

Indeed, or threads in OSXs Mail.
A search field at the top of screen lets you search for practically any word that may appear in any part of the email, including the subject, the name of the sender or what may be in the body of the message. If there's one thing Google does well, it's search. We entered in words we knew we had used in messages sent and they popped up instantly.
Just like OSX's Mail too, with the search field reacting instantly. Being able to content-search 20,000+ messages in less than 5 seconds is incredibly useful, especially when referencing mailing list archives. What about some revolutionary features though? Will be interesting to see what Google produce.

1GB free e-mail already available (2, Informative)

osxuser-02 (604717) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842369)

Spymac [spymac.com] already offers free 1GB e-mail accounts without all the privacy issues of GMail. However, not everyone wants their email address to have the word 'mac' in it.

Re:1GB free e-mail already available (2, Funny)

theAedileDecimus (728792) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842439)

Spymac already offers free 1GB e-mail accounts without all the privacy issues of GMail. However, not everyone wants their email address to have the word 'mac' in it.
Hmm... though maybe someone would interpret that as spying on the macs in some sinister conspiracy against Apple...

Re:1GB free e-mail already available (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842523)

Spymac already offers free 1GB e-mail accounts without all the privacy issues of GMail. However, not everyone wants their email address to have the word 'mac' in it.

Gmail reads your email.
Spymac spies on you through your email.

BTW, spymac changed to 1GB after google announced Gmail, so google was first.

Re:1GB free e-mail already available (3, Insightful)

SEE (7681) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842543)

without all the privacy issues of GMail.

Your mail is sitting in plain text on their servers. The privacy issue -- will (Spymac|Google) violate its privacy policy and read your email -- is the same whichever you use.

Oh My GAWD oNE gigggaggigabyte (0)

durp (769886) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842371)

Who needs 100 megabytes of e-mail? I use Yahoo! [yahoo.com] and stay way under the limit. If your e-mail is really that important you can save it on your own computer in a text file. Durrrrrr

Re:Oh My GAWD oNE gigggaggigabyte (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842423)

While we are on the subject:
Why does your mother need my 12 inch cock, when she could get by with your 2 inch one?

Just because you don't use it, doesn't make it stupid to offer so much storage. I'm sure they are counting on the fact that most people won't use that much.

Re:Oh My GAWD oNE gigggaggigabyte (0)

durp (769886) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842498)

I like how you compared the internet to your cock. Nerd.

Privacy? (2, Funny)

DeadBugs (546475) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842375)

They can go ahead and search my 1 Gigabyte encrypted zip file all they want.

Re:Privacy? (1)

morcego (260031) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842490)

I hope you don't use WinZip encryption (yes yes, been fixed, I suppose).
Anyway, they have a nice cruster there. Computer power is something they are not lacking. Not that I think they would want to do that. My point is another entirely: just because some data is encrypted, it doesn't mean it is safe.

Name Grabbing-rush (5, Interesting)

obfuscated (258084) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842376)

Is everyone prepared for the 'oklahoma-land-rush style' name grabbing?

I'm sure there will be people who will try and speculate a few names for themselves and then sell them just like domain names.

I have a script that refreshes the gmail page daily to try and get a jump on my name but I don't have faith that I'll actually get it.

Re:Name Grabbing-rush (4, Interesting)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842522)

Interesting that Google would have the ability to trump any such schemes by running the auction themselves...

Announce a 30-day pre-launch period where people can "pre-register" their desired user names. Anybody who picks a unique name gets it free. Anybody who picks a name that's in conflict gets invited into an auction to take part in if they still want the name.

This would deflate most of the name-speculation business because in order for a speculator to profit, they'd have to win the name at auction and then somehow sell that name for more than they paid. Google could keep the money for itself, but knowing their "Don't be evil" rules they'd likely donate the money to a charity cause.

"First come, first served" would be a very unwise policy for Google to take... but notice they haven't told us what their name-handout policy will be yet.

not conerned with privacy issue (1)

mcguyver (589810) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842380)

I am looking forward to google email. I am not concerned with privacy as contexual advertising is now way more intrusive than preventing spam.

Full Post (mirror) (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842381)

A First Look At Google's Gmail
Arik Hesseldahl, 04.12.04, 10:00 AM ET

Having tried most Web-based e-mail services, we were eager to try Google's new Gmail, which offers up to a full gigabyte of storage.

Google invited us to experiment with the early version of the service, and taking into account that it remains under construction, we have a few preliminary observations.

At first glance, it looks like pretty much every other Web-based e-mail service out there. But there are a few interesting features we haven't seen before.

First, Gmail is good for the e-mail pack rat that many people are becoming. Most people delete old e-mail messages because they have storage constraints--or think they do, or because they just don't like to see a cluttered inbox. But if you're the type who likes to refer back to old e-mail in order to remember what you or another party said, Gmail's 1-gigabyte storage is certainly a welcome change.

Another feature that makes it easy to re-trace the steps in an e-mail exchange: say you need to remember a few action items sent by e-mail from the boss. Once you find the one of the e-mail messages that is part of that exchange, Gmail displays it with related messages in the window. Gmail calls these exchanges "conversations." And clicking on one expands it so that more than one relevant message is displayed at a time. A link at the right of the screen says "expand all," and it expands all the messages that are part of a conversation.

Finding those messages is far easier and faster than with any other e-mail program or service we've ever experienced. A search field at the top of screen lets you search for practically any word that may appear in any part of the email, including the subject, the name of the sender or what may be in the body of the message. If there's one thing Google does well, it's search. We entered in words we knew we had used in messages sent and they popped up instantly. Another search using the last name of the moderator of a certain mailing list we subscribe to was equally fast and comprehensive.

On other e-mail programs or services, the most effective way to search message content without taking a long time is to rearrange e-mail by date, sender or subject and then try to zero in on the message you're looking for. Gmail has solved this problem brilliantly.

Organizing messages from your inbox is also different with Gmail. Gmail's approach is to use labels, instead of folders, which allows messages to have overlapping types.

For instance, you might subscribe to a mailing list where you discuss politics, but also correspond privately about politics and other things with a personal friend, with whom you're also making vacation plans. If a message from your friend addresses both an ongoing political discussion and vacation plans, it can be labeled as "politics" and "vacation." On the left side of the inbox screen you can click on these labels and instantly see all the messages labeled as politics or vacation or whatever you want.

Finally, you've probably heard much of the hot air surrounding Google's plans to push ads at Gmail users. The first night we started using Gmail, late April 9, we saw the text ads, which were nearly identical to the text ads you're used to seeing in on the right side of the screen after a Web search at Google.com. As of this morning, we noticed no text ads at all.

E-mail is an inherently insecure medium. For the most part messages are sent in the clear, meaning almost no attempt is made to obfuscate the contents of a message from someone with prying eyes. All Internet service providers store e-mail on a server in order to deliver it to you. Technicians with time on their hands and lousy ethics can--if they want--read your mail.

The only way to prevent this is to encrypt your e-mail so that only those who have the keys to decrypt it can read it. But consumers have shown that they overwhelmingly don't care to use encryption, mainly because it adds too many steps in the process of sending and receiving e-mail.

Google insists quite clearly in its privacy policy that "No human reads your mail to target ads or other information without your consent." The process by which it pushes ads at its users is fully automated. Fears about privacy problems inherent with the Gmail service are, in our opinion, overblown.

As yet, many other basic features, like access to external email accounts via POP3 protocol, and the ability to change the "reply-to address" that appears in mail you send, are missing from Gmail. But it's still early in its existence. When the service gets to general release, we won't be surprised to see a mass migration from Hotmail, Microsoft's (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) free Web-based email service, which has in recent months gone from being average to utterly abysmal in terms of user experience.

Users of Yahoo!'s (nasdaq: YHOO - news - people ) much better and more powerful Web mail service may start to migrate as well, if only to get around the fees that Yahoo! charges for extra storage. As it stands right now Gmail's main advantage is its storage limit and searching ability. For many users, that may be enough.

Spam should compress quite well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842390)

Maybe that does not cost them so much as it seems.

no humans... (5, Insightful)

blutrot (734054) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842395)

Google:
No human reads your mail to target ads or other information without your consent

What about programs that target ads to you based on your email or ``other'' information? The way the article is worded infers that this is happening. What is to prevent google from coming up with human-readable statistics of what email messages a person or group of people are receiving or sending?

5q4w (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842411)

I've heard people saying google doesn't expect all users to use all 1GB, but what happens when users get spam and don't remove the spam? This and all email viruses will quickly fill up even 1GB of storage. Will google remove all unread emails after N days or what?

Re:5q4w (0)

durp (769886) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842437)

Google will most likely live up to their promise and just buy more servers. After all, isn't the point of having 1 biggabyte of e-mail to save it for X amount of years, so Google will allow you to save all your e-mail forever whether it's SPAM or not.

Privacy? Who cares? (1, Insightful)

Gothic_Walrus (692125) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842412)

Unless I'm mistaken, using a web based e-mail system as your primary service is, more often than not, a bad idea. You won't be able to access your mail if the site goes down, and if their servers crash, your mail is quite possibly gone forever.

I may be an exception, but I use my web e-mail addresses as backups for my more secure accounts. Google, then, will just be another backup...one with a lot of storage. :)

I know I can't be the only one that thinks this way...can I?

Re:Privacy? Who cares? (1, Insightful)

durp (769886) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842467)

Google's servers are a lot more than your crappy little computer. And I'm sure they will do offline backups of all their servers in case of whatever you think could happen to them.

Re:Privacy? Who cares? (0)

ispepalocacoc (592651) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842515)

because google is often down?..... I trust them to be up more then my ISP.

Re:Privacy? Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842552)

Unless I'm mistaken, using a web based e-mail system as your primary service is, more often than not, a bad idea. You won't be able to access your mail if the site goes down, and if their servers crash, your mail is quite possibly gone forever.

If the server goes down and you can't access your Gmail email messages, you, yes you guessed it, google for them. See google.com :)

Re:Privacy? Who cares? (4, Informative)

kakos (610660) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842569)

Ummm, you realize this is true for ANY email service? Any mail server is hosted on a server can can go down or crash. In fact, I would trust Google or Yahoo or MSN more. They usually have clusters of servers. If one goes down, it is unlikely that the other 99 aren't going to go down. And they keep regular backups and such.

So what about your own e-mail server? (1)

Ramdux (770731) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842416)

Why do we have to rely on free gmail or Hotmail services to get our e-mail kicks. Can't we go back to the old days and just set up our own exchange servers using freeware software and choose our own domains? I can just imagine it: Ramdux@IveGotTwentyGigsOfEmailStorageSpaceSoKissMy Ass.com !!!

Privacy (4, Insightful)

gtshafted (580114) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842421)

If you currently use a major webmail provider - chances are that you currently don't have it anyway. I don't know about Yahoo, but Microsoft outsourced MSN's support to companies in the Phillipines - of which one of my friends used to work at. He told me that there was really no framework to ensure that the support team couldn't arbitrarily look into someone's email account which they did when they were bored or when they had a request from family and friends (ie "please check my girlfriend's account - I want to know if she's cheating on me" - etc...). The bottomline is that the only thing protecting your privacy if you use a mainstream email account - is the sheer number of other people who have accounts...

I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case with other email providers - especially ones that outsourced support to other countries.

Re:Privacy (1)

I_Love_Pocky! (751171) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842513)

especially ones that outsourced support to other countries.

This just seems like a particularlly ignorant thing to say. Why are foreigners more likely to snoop on your email than their domestic counterparts? You don't have any privacy with email no mater who you use as your email provider. It doesn't matter where their employees live.

Other than that, I agree with what you are saying.

GMail (2)

The_Mystic_For_Real (766020) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842429)

It seems that Google has little to gain by not just capitulating to every concern raised about security, as this seems mostly to be a way to put a permanent end to yahoo.com. It doesn't really matter though, as most people don't really want to change their e-mail so these account are probably going to just be used for data backup as has already been stated.

Well done. (2, Insightful)

CGP314 (672613) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842441)

Organizing messages from your inbox is also different with Gmail. Gmail's approach is to use labels, instead of folders, which allows messages to have overlapping types.

Now this is exactly the kind of simple-but-fantastically-useful thinking that makes me love google. I can only hope that Apple `borrows' the idea for mail.app


-Colin [colingregorypalmer.net]

thirteen thirty-seven. (1, Troll)

knowles420 (589383) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842447)

one gig of storage? wow. in theory, i could use that space to store a fair amount of warez, tunes, and flicks, and spread them around with relative impunity. for that matter... who's gonna stop me?

Still and all (0, Offtopic)

Malc (1751) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842450)

"Still and all" - what does that mean?

Re:Still and all (2, Funny)

dont_think_twice (731805) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842532)

"Still and all" - what does that mean? It means the submitter is a moron.

Is webmail a good choice? (4, Insightful)

rueger (210566) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842451)

Am I alone in thinking of hotmail or yahoo or google as the kind of e-mail you use when you have no better alternative? I can't imagine why anyone who can afford the price of an Internet account wouldn't prefer Pegasus, Eudora, or even Outlook.

Beyond that, I want my e-mail archives on my computer, not on some random server that I don't control. I want to know that I'm the only person who is accessing my files, and I don't want to wake up some morning and find out that the message that I desperately need to review is lost because of a server failure or DDOS attack.

Relying on a webmail system for your primary communications just seems foolish.

Privacy concerns? (5, Insightful)

defile (1059) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842463)

You must explicitly request Google by name to use their services. You can't be unaware of their existence like you can with Microsoft or Apple (comes with the computer).

Google does not surreptitiously install spyware on your system and record everything you do on your computer, requiring you to meticulously hunt down and remove its components or employ third party scumware removal utilities.

All you have to do stop using Google is to stop typing their name.

Switching to Google did not require a 15MB download, or a registration process, or a credit card. As the average joe, you've invested very little in Google, and you can replace them as simply as you can type a 4-8 letter word.

The only thing that keeps you typing their name is that you believe they're the best way to find the answer. Once you stop believing that, once a significant group of people become fed up, Google is finished. They know this, you should too.

In fact, type "search engine" and Google will tell you about altavista, lycos, excite, alltheweb, etc.

Privacy Policy (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842469)

People are complaining because google is scanning their email with a computer. We have our private email scanned all the time, for viruses and for spam. In fact, many of the spam based filtering approaches look at the words and their structure and generate statistical models based on that for the purposes of identifying legit email from illigit.

So google will scan to add ads to my email. This info wasn't buried on page 200 in small legalese, but was in their FAQ! Google has been very forthcoming with how they will scan and store individuals email. Given that they are upfront about this, some of the privacy groups seem to literally have gone off the wall.

People say, ads are obnoxious in my email. Clearly you havn't used hotmail recently. They are in the frame and in the email! Google invented the unobtrusive ad.

Compared to the hotmail and yahoo accounts people will be coming from (have you read your SBC/Yahoo terms of service recently), it is hard to see how google will be so much worse for them, even from a privacy standpoint.

While the airlines are giving my flight info to private contractors to profile me so that I can't travel anymore, without telling me, google posts how they will scan my email to advertise products to me.

Other privacy features? (4, Insightful)

-tji (139690) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842471)

Personally, I couldn't care less about their mail scanning to associate ads. It's a free service.. Ad's are the cost of usage. If they can get legitimate advertisers and successfully achieve directed advertising, that's even better. I am much more concerned about transit and authentication security.

Some of the privacy areas that would be more valuable to me are:

- Ability to access securely. I am much more concerned about sniffers on public networks grabbing my data than google's software seeing it. Can I use a fully SSL encrypted session for mail access (rather than Yahoo's SSL authentication, then clear viewing of mail content)?

- Encrypted e-mail support? Open standards based e-mail encryption would be a major plus. If it was compatible with Mozilla/Thunderbird it would be extremely useful. Running a huge mail service that supported this could get enough momentum for average people to actually secure their e-mail. (The mail is then secured not only in transit, but also on the disk.)

- IMAPS / POPS support? I don't know if it will allow POP/IMAP support at all. But, if it does, SSL encrypted sessions are a must to avoid password and data sniffing.

Hmmm money to be made here... (5, Funny)

Gilesx (525831) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842497)

Wonder how much I could sell a gmail account loaded with mp3s for on eBay?

I wonder... (1, Redundant)

Tiberius_Fel (770739) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842506)

I wonder, though, if they'll actually be able to offer 1GB per account for very long. And I also somewhat wonder if this won't become a filesharing tool as well? Just e-mail your movies or whole MP3 library to anyone who asks for it?

Good for mailing lists / Usenet (2, Insightful)

Bikini Kill (678047) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842510)

With 1GB of space, an address not on your personal domain, threading, and searching, this seems like it would be nice to use for mailing lists and Usenet replies.

That sort of mail is generally public anyway, so the privacy issues would be negligible.

Gmail should be really for free? (3, Interesting)

Scorillo47 (752445) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842524)

One thing that makes me skeptical on Gmail is the huge amount of storage required to keep the system running.

1) Let's make a simple calculation: let's pick up the number of Hotmail accounts (200,000,000 as I heard last time). Multiply this with 1 Gb and you get 24 Petabytes of data!

(See Google for more details http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF -8&q=200000000+*+1+Gb )

It would be interesting to know how much data does Google store today.

2) Now, let's compute how much power will this system consume? Assuming at least a RAID 1 configuration, you would need at least 48 Petabytes of storage since we all know that harddisks fail.

Let's assume that one harddisk stores around 250 Gb of data. Let's assum uncompressed data (since those 1 Gb can contain anything after all... This means that we need around 200,000,000 * 2 / 250 = 1,600,000 harddrives running all the time!

Now, let's pick up the power consumption to be around 10 W. We then get around 1,600,000 * 10 = 16 Gigawatts of power to be dissipated. Now THAT is a lot of power... Think of all the maintenance costs for running this for only one year.

Anyway, the engineering challenges are pretty strong here. I imagine that Google is taking a risky bet here and hopes to develop storage rack/ventiation technology "on the go".

In conclusion, I really think that either Gmail won't be free, or the 1 Gb limit is a marketing number.

Browser-side Javascript public key encyption (4, Informative)

NZheretic (23872) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842527)

It is possible to use browser side javascript to encrypt and decrypt content, see Pfex ( a non-serous encryption demo ) [sourceforge.net]

It should be possible to use public key encryption with inspected outgoing and incoming email gateways to ensure email content privacy.

-Incoming SMTP Email
| Incoming Gateway encrypts plaintext email with User's public Key
- Encrypted Email
| Gmail Web based email server
- Encrypted Email
| User's Web Brower with Javascript decrypt. User supplies/cut-pastes private Key
- Decrypted Email only at user browser side
| User Reads and enters reply into text window
| More Javascript encrypts outgoing content using outgoing gateway's public key
- Encrypted Email
| Outgoing Email gateway decrypts outgoing Email
- Decrypted Email

As long as the Incoming and Outgoing email servers remain seperate,subject to inspection and undergo regular auditing, then the email stored on Gmail will remain unreadable to Google.

The text ads don't bother me (1)

crushinghellhammer (727226) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842539)

cos I plan to use my Gmail account to subscribe to discussion lists and not worry about saving messages I may need in the future in my "local folders".

Email Search (1)

Beg4Mercy (32808) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842557)

I just want to point out that searching email is not some brillant new idea Google had. If you have a Yahoo account, login to your mail, go to the inbox, and click "Search Mail." You have the option of it searching the full text of all messages. There's even an advanced search.

My point is simply that Google allowing you to search your mail is not some huge innovation.

HOWEVER the 1 gigabyte storage limit is awesome! (My Yahoo mail account has only 6mb)

spam filter = privacy invasion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8842558)

I wonder if the people complaining about google processing email
to find related ads and we pages are also opposed to spam filters
examining message bodies? Bayesian spam filters even build
user profiles!

read everyone elses TOS (3, Interesting)

Splork (13498) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842567)

and you'll find that gmail's is quite good.

Yay! (5, Funny)

Gilesx (525831) | more than 10 years ago | (#8842570)

Now I can archive years of spam and show my grandkids just how easy it used to be to get

a) Viagra
b) Vicodin
c) A degree
d) A loan
e) Laid
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