Tag Archives: GMail

You signed the EULA!

Last week Google said Gmail users have no expectation of privacy.

Part of the justification for this is a court case from 1979 stating:

“A person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.”

That’s basically all e-mail, since your average user does not manage his own mail server, and send only to other accounts who manage their own servers. So any e-mail the passes to or from Gmail can be scanned by Google for targeted advertising or anything else.

But we knew this is happening so why would we be worried about it? If it’s transmitted over the internet it’s not private. And we agreed to all of these terms when we clicked the ‘I Agree’ button on the End User License Agreement. And we all read those right?

I think what bugs me most about this issue is how conversations about the law, and what’s right for the country have changed. We each have entered into dozens of hundred page contracts by using software, browsing the internet, or even activating a computer. This is a bit of  a change from when we used to discuss the issues of the day in a bar.

The thing is, we all still think about life this way. Our bar may be Facebook or an actual bar, but we don’t think of life in terms of contracts we’ve signed without reading, we think about what’s right. We think about the constitution and the bill of rights, probably the last set of legal documents we actually understood.

We are all bound by decisions we’ve made without understanding them, and it feels like that’s something that ought to change. I think many of us didn’t have an expectation of privacy, at least not a conscious one. In fact if anything we’re a generation of over-sharers.

But the real extent of how much can be learned about a person just from their e-mail or what they post on Facebook is staggering. We understand that anything we write in a public space like Facebook or WordPress or even an internet forum needs to be for public consumption, but what about private notes to loved ones, or even just the many profoundly silly things we do?

I’m not sure what the alternatives are for e-mail. It’s not like we can all start sending letters, and I’m not sure what our expectations of privacy can be in the postal system anyway.

But we do need to think about these issues, and discuss them in the public square, without just saying ‘meh’. And we need to have a longer attention span. After all, technology is only getting more advanced and our next privacy challenge, Google Glass, is just around the corner.


Filed under Trube On Tech

The Private Life of Ben Trube, Writer

So what does the internet, or specifically Google know about me? Turns out quite a bit:

SixYearsOfMyGmailThis is a representation of the last six years of my gmail account, created by the new MIT Immersion project. By analyzing my gmail’s metadata (not the content), Immersion was able to make connections between most of my groups of friends and even projects dating back years.

Take this little section:


This is the Ohio State University Men’s Glee Club of which I was a member for five years, more specifically a list of the guys who I enlisted to sing during my proposal to the little red haired girl.


This is not a picture of that proposal.

Or how about we take a look over here:


This little pentagram is from a CSE animation class I took one of my last years at OSU. We made this:

Over here we have my bible study and a few others from Smoky Row:


Here’s Brian D. Buckley and our mutual friends (as well as our Restore the Fourth chapter):


There are a number of other interesting data points including the two “little red haired girls” (maiden and married name e-mail accounts), a group from by brief work at the Byrd Polar Research center, as well as my old CSE adviser. There’s even a scarface (Jonathan Coulton minion, not Al Pacino gangster).

Now consider this, there’s evidence to suggest that the degree of separation between most people is closer to three (not the six from the Kevin Bacon Game). In recent revelations, John Inglis of the NSA revealed that the FISA court gave them authority to collect the cell phone information of anyone three “jumps” from a known or suspected terrorist or terrorist sympathizer. It’s likely e-mail is included in this ruling as well. Just think for a moment about combining my little network with all of the networks of everyone I’ve talked to, and everyone they’ve talked to, and everyone that group has talked to. Do you think it’s possible that someone in that last group is on a watch list? If so, then your data is probably sitting somewhere in Utah data center, among the zettabytes.

Have a good morning. And give the MIT Immersion project a go. You’ll be surprised what you can learn.

PS: Immersion seems to ignore any newsletters or blog notifications or other mass e-mail traffic that also goes through my gmail. Adding this data in would probably create a net twice as big just on my end.


Filed under Trube On Tech