A Trip Down Privacy's Memory Lane

Author:Mr Stewart Baker
Profession:Steptoe & Johnson LLP

Privacy groups are known to put a lot of effort into attacking new technologies for a reason. They are concerned that, once the technology is seen in action, we won't be scared by its hypothetical risks, while its benefits will be easier to assess. Once that happens, imposing new privacy laws gets a lot harder.

To see just how fast that cycle can run, let's take a trip down privacy's memory lane.

In 2004, when Britney Spears was topping the charts with "Toxic," Google introduced a free, ad-supported email system called Gmail. Thirty-one privacy groups immediately demanded that the service be suspended. California State Senator Liz Figueroa introduced a bill to hobble the service by requiring that both sender and recipient consent to scanning of messages for ads. And EPIC offered the following advice, still posted in a lonely corner of its website:

Don't send e-mails to @gmail.com addresses

"Remember, since Gmail is scanning and extracting incoming e-mails as well, even if you aren't a Gmail user, your privacy may still be violated by Gmail. To avoid such scanning, keep an eye on the domain of e-mail addresses to which you are you are sending and replying.

If you get an e-mail from a Gmail account and you wish not to reply consider explaining something like this:

Dear Friend,

I have received your e-mail, but due to privacy concerns, I don't want to send my response to your Gmail account. Please give me another e-mail address where I can reach you. If you don't have another e-mail address, consider the following free e-mail accounts with generous storage which do not pose the same privacy...

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