Shooting Spitballs May Be More Useful

The average Californian has many concerns these days: how to feed their families, the legal viability of same-sex unions, outrageously high gas prices, and how to afford college for Junior or Juniorette.

Stopping Gmail generally is not among those concerns.

But State Senator Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont) believes that Gmail, the controversial new e-mail service from Google that is beta testing right now, is a scourge upon the earth that must be terminated with alacrity. And she has introduced a bill that would ban Gmail in the Golden State.

“Telling people that their most intimate and private e-mail thoughts to doctors, friends, lovers, and family members are just another direct marketing commodity isn’t the way to promote e-commerce,” said Figueroa in a prepared statement. “At minimum, before someone’s most intimate and private thoughts are converted into a direct marketing opportunity for Google, Google should get everyone’s informed consent.”

Figueroa, whose representative district covers most of Silicon Valley, believes this legislation further solidifies her reputation as a staunch privacy advocate. In the midst of tweaking her bill, however, Figueroa must have forgotten thata customer can use Gmail only after he or she expressly consents to the service’s privacy policy and Terms of Use. Those documents clearly state that advertisements are tied to e-mail content (see number 8 of the Terms of Use), and there be no way that Google can remove all of a user’s mail contents from its servers (see section called “What types of personal information do we collect and how do we use it?”).

In a recent posting on his Politech listserv (a service that is separate from his duties), McCullagh points out that Figueroa’s bill would make it illegal for a California company to offer a “family friendly” email service that filtered dirty jokes into their own folder, for instance. The bill also would prohibit reviewing incoming messages to make clickable hyperlinks out of text phrases like “”

Further, the bill might ban the practice of discarding messages with attachments beyond a certain size limit.

Google has suffered a public relations fiasco because of Gmail, and rightly so. But trying to legislate Gmail is not the answer. Quite the contrary, it’s patently ridiculous.

Declan McCullagh. Legislator Seeks to Block Gmail April 22, 2004.

California Senate. Privacy: Online Communications (SB 1822).

Update: “The California state Senate on Thursday approved a bill that takes aim at Google’s new Gmail service, placing strict limits on e-mail providers seeking to scan customer messages for advertising and other purposes.”

Evan Hansen. California Senate approves anti-Gmail bill. May 27, 2004.

Written by Dr. K Matthew Dames

04/28/2004 at 06:02

Posted in Web & Online

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