Do You Trust Gmail?

Are you concerned about Gmail violating your privacy? Do you have a method for routinely backing up your Gmail account?  Do you trust Gmail?

Gmail logo

When Gmail started two years ago I thought the idea of having a free, giant, email account was divine and I paid someone on eBay $40 to get one of the first Gmail invitations.

Once I was in the Gmail beta and I had my own invitations to distribute, I sent an email to some of my favorite students and to a few faculty members and support staff at a major East Coast University — where I was teaching at the time — to offer them free Gmail invitations.

Moments after I sent the email one of the main technical support people in the department — a guy I previously considered a friend — sent out a broadcast email explaining how dangerous Gmail was to our privacy and that anyone who took me up on my offer of a free Gmail account was not only naive, but inviting trouble into their lives because Gmail “reads” every message it receives.

I replied to everyone to explain how Gmail didn’t violate anyone’s privacy any more than Yahoo! or Microsoft or any other email provider violates your privacy by “reading” your mail using a Spam filter to determine how to route your email.

My former friend replied, “Ah, but Gmail reads your email to soak you with advertising based on the content of your messages.”

That was it.

He successfully killed all faculty interest in Gmail because none of them understood what Gmail was or how innovative it was or how much room you were offered to store your stuff online. Gmail, in their minds, was branded as a spy service reading your mail to deliver Spam in the form of sidebar advertising.

Not one staff or faculty member took up my invitation offer.

The students, on the other hand, gobbled up every invitation I had.

They innately knew the power and promise of Gmail and they wanted in fast and early.

Now that two years have passed and we’ve seen Google enhance Gmail with a Calendar and Talk and POP access and twice the free space and other gobs of goodies, I have decided to use Gmail even more now than I had been using it for my everyday email needs.

I love IMAP. The idea of having all my email “discoverable” on the server from any interface and any computer I wish to use around the world is appealing. I am also a folder person. I like dropping the email I wish to save in extremely specific folders for safekeeping.

When my favorite IMAP provider decided to raise its rates to $40 a year for a 2gig mailbox, and after installing a new main laptop, I realized IMAP was maybe not all that great.

If you have a lot of folders you want to re-index for your local computer you have re-download all the messages in those folders so your local search engine and Outlook can find them and that takes forever if you have a lot of messages.

I have over 37,000 saved emails stretching back a decade.

I passed on renewing service with my IMAP email provider. I decided to try to use Gmail as my new main backup and storage email haunt.

I was able to “redirect” all 37,000 messages to my Gmail address. It took all day. I had to open every single one of the 315 folders I had created over the last five years and then redirect the contents to my Gmail account.

It was then I realized the beauty and simplicity of Gmail.

Instead of putting one email in one folder, Gmail keeps all your mail — all 37,000 pieces of email in my case — in a single giant email pool where each message is equal and important.

There are no folder hierarchies in Gmail. There are no sub-sub-sub folders-within-folders in Gmail.

If you need to fool yourself you are in control of your email, Gmail lets you add as many labels to your messages as you wish.

I soon realized Gmail labels really aren’t that important because Gmail — and Google Desktop if you give it access to index your Gmail account — can search your email based on any word in your email message so the labels are only there to fool the “folder makers” like me into feeling I know where all my email is located even though there’s no way for the human mind to order 37,000 email messages.

The hard thing to realize is Gmail is completely ordered by default because its index of your email provides all the structure and shape you need to find anything instantly.

When Gmail indexed all 37,000 email messages for me, Gmail also re-constructed disparate conversations into more readable thread chains. That was amazing to see how Gmail was able to reconstitute old relationships between people and what they said and when they said it and what I said in response.

Get rid of the idea of folders and containers and labels and coloring messages and start thinking about your email just as words you spoke by typing and then the ideas those words represent and you’ll be able to search for, and find, anything your mind desires.

Gmail frees you to think abstractly about relational idea strings.

You don’t need to suffer the panic of wondering where an email physically resides on a server in order to hunt it down.

I no longer love IMAP.

I am over folders.

I am a Gmailman.

I don’t even notice the Gmail advertising. My eyes are numb to the sidebar contents and it doesn’t matter me to if the advertising called is because my email was “read” by Gmail.

Google already “reads” my desktop contents and saves my chats and knows
my surfing preference and what I buy and my website and my Sitemap stats and my Analytics numbers so why should I care about my email?

There’s no such thing as privacy on the internet and there never was.

I know people who use Gmail as their email back up system and Spam filter. They have all email sent to Gmail, saved there, filtered for Spam and then all legitimate email is forwarded on to their “real” email address.

That’s a pretty slick setup.

Every important email I now send gets BCC:d to Gmail. All my database backups of this Urban Semiotic blog get Gmailed every day for safe keeping. If I have a file I know I’ll need later, it gets Gmailed.

There are rumblings Google is going to start a free storage service called GDrive and that should prove to be an interesting idea.

Gmail is my main backup for vital email and files and if Gmail coughs one day and everything is lost, I trust Google to recover the information for me more than any other email provider.

Am I foolish to put so much blind belief in Gmail?

Have I been duped by the Google Gods?

I trust Gmail because the proof is in the performance and for the last two years there hasn’t been another company that can touch the goodness and the smarts Google have provided to each of us — FOR FREE — and that kind of dedication to innovation on one side requires faith and humility from the other side.