The silly fears about Google's e-mail service.

Inside the Internet.
April 15 2004 5:26 PM

Read My Mail, Please

The silly privacy fears about Google's e-mail service.

(Continued from Page 1)

The most obvious way for Google to mollify Gmail critics would be to allow users a chance to opt out of the targeted ads, and hope that most won't bother. Brin insists the company has no plans to do that, contrary to recent news reports, but he says it hasn't been ruled out, either. In return for turning off the company's ad targeting system, Google could offer, say, only 10 megabytes of disk space to those who opt out. It would still be a better deal than Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail, and skittish customers might reconsider the ads as they near their inbox quotas. Still, critics would demand that the ad-targeting system be opt-in instead of opt-out, even though they make no similar demand for spam-filtering software. What's more, the opt-out solution wouldn't assuage non-Gmail users who fear their missives to opted-in Gmailers will be handed over to advertisers, or worse, John Ashcroft.

Luckily, there's a better option. Ten years ago, the privacy objections of people who didn't want their Web sites crawled by search engines were put to rest with a simple fix: Webmasters could place a file named robots.txt on their sites as a "No Trespassing" marker, a sign that they didn't want their site to be searched. Google needs to offer a robots.txt for e-mail, some kind of tag that any Web user can include in a message to indicate that it shouldn't be scanned by Gmail software. Given that antispam and antivirus software will scan the e-mail anyway, this solution would be somewhat phony. But if McCullagh is right that Gmail-bashers are just opposed to helping advertisers, it will do the trick.

Advertisement

The Google guys need to implement this before the backlash gets out of hand. Otherwise, they may be forced to abandon the best Web mail system yet because of a few well-placed people who've never even tried it. That really would be evil.

Paul Boutin is a writer living in San Francisco.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 5:39 PM Whole Foods Desperately Wants Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.