Why I support my invasion of personal privacy…

I am currently in the middle of reading a history of the Google founding entitled The Google Story by David A. Vise.

I just finished chapter 14, called April Fools. This chapter is about the launch of Gmail–one of my favorite online applications and the best email service I have ever used. I love how easy it is to sort emails by “conversations” and tag them appropriately. But, I digress…

Vise focuses this chapter on a discussion around privacy issues regarding Gmail’s Adword strategy. Basically, Google scans the content of all emails you receive in Gmail to identify appropriate Adword advertisements.

In the book, many different consumers and privacy group express concern that Google is becoming “Big Brother” by tracking all of your interactions.

My opinion… who cares. What will Google or anyone else do with this data that would be so harmful to me? What incentives do they have to share my data in a way that would hurt me? I hear people express concerns about their privacy being breached on a consistent basis, but I have never heard how this breach has effected them negatively. Privacy issues seem more like an irrational fear created by books like 1984 than a legitimate concern.

I am not afraid of having my personal data available because I see more good than harm. For example, I am bombarded on a day-to-day basis by advertising that is totally irrelevant to me. I would love to live in a world in which I saw 50% less ads, but the ads I saw are actually relevant and would help me find a new product I can use.

Wait… isn’t that what Google does?!

To be honest, Adwords in Gmail seem to be less relevant to me than the Google search engine Adwords. This happens because people having an email conversation that contains a particular “keyword” may not reflect an unmet need. For example, just because the word “football” appears in one of my emails does not mean I am looking to buy tickets to see the Redskins. Search engine results seem to be better suited to target consumer needs, since the searcher is seeking out new information/items they would be willing to purchase.

Going forward, Google needs to adjust its Gmail Adword algorithm to reflect the difference between a casual conversation and an identifiable customer need.


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