KeepYourEmailOpen

Live in the UK? You’ve probably seen this advert before your YouTube videos recently. This seems to be a slightly extended version (by 10 seconds). Anyway, yeah, have a gander.

It irritates me for reasons other than the fact I’ll be seeing it on every shared device I use that doesn’t have AdBlock for the next week or so. Consider what’s worse: the fact Google automatically advertises to you through an algorithm based on keywords you use frequently, or the fact Microsoft inherently assumes you’re a terrible person who has something they should be hiding.

First, the advert itself. It’s annoying, sure, but also incredibly daft as a comparison. Would you really email a friend about how you’re planning to run off with another’s sister, or that you’d crashed his car? Admit it, email is a pretty hard medium to have serious emotional correspondance through. At least Facebook Messenger would probably get you quicker responses. Running off and crashing cars are the sorts of things you just need to have actual face-to-face contact to work out. Or, in these instances, preferably nothing at all, you scheming scumbag, you. Despite their efforts for a sleeker, more Apple-esque image, I still feel this is Microsoft putting a greasy arm around you and saying, “it’s okay, you can still deceive your friends through us”.

Secondly, consider the real point of all this – privacy in emails, or true lack thereof. Here’s another, older video you might have seen.

That’s KeepYourEmailPrivate (apparently the official channel of this campaign, which in itself is an offshoot of Scroogled) citing an example of an email that was about a cat and how Google offered an ad relating to cat toys, and then attacks its insensitivity when the email’s content is about how the cat had been recently put down. Sure, that’s private information, and the ad’s an upsetting coincidence, but if nothing else it demonstrates the very humanlessness of the algorithm’s keyword parsing. Google won’t tell anyone if you’ve crashed someone’s car, they just want to offer you insurance, if you want some. There’s no-one there, not right now. Unless you frequently and openly discuss, say, your plans to commit credit card fraud or acts of terrorism through your Gmail, you probably aren’t going to be setting off a red light at some Google employee’s desk, prompting him to rifle through every word of your account and speed-dial the police.

But say you’re not concerned about what you’re personally doing with the email; you’re just uncomfortable with the notion that a service provider is able to access the emails and their content whenever they choose. After all, the Royal Mail don’t have a record of every letter passed through, do they? Well, sorry – that’s just seemingly now the price you pay for the convenience of a free and easily accessible email account, and you’d be naive to think Microsoft are doing any different. Hell, compare the Microsoft Services Agreement with Google’s Privacy Policy:

Microsoft: ‘3.3. What does Microsoft do with my content? …we may occasionally use automated means to isolate information from email, chats, or photos in order to help detect and protect against spam and malware, or to improve the services with new features that makes them easier to use.’

Google: ‘Information we get from your use of our services. We may collect information about the services that you use and how you use them, like when you visit a website that uses our advertising services or you view and interact with our ads and content.’ …followed by a small laundry list of how exactly they go about that.

So, really, once you know that both can have your information whenever they want – if they did – do you care that one stands to profit from it? In fact, maybe you appreciate that the ads you see are specifically tailored to you, or (like me) just find them irritating but are able to sort-of block them from view when scanning through an email? It’s a case of the more useful of two evils, I guess.

Our free and convenient digital lives have always had the capability to come back to haunt us. Now that we hear about the NSA every other day, though, we’re just that much more continually conscious of what we do. When we’re all down the Google salt mines, or Microsoft work camps, or at the mercy of whoever ends up ‘winning’, we’ll have all the time in the world to properly read our Terms of Service Agreements. For my own safety, my future posts will be cut-and-pasted from magazines and uploaded as scans from different devices several hundred miles from where I actually live before being destroyed. Talk soon, if They haven’t got me yet.

Rathe T.G.

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