Friday, September 25, 2009

Ten Unread Messages

The other day, I opened up Gmail and Google told me I had 10 unread messages. But soon I realized that wasn’t quite accurate. They’ve all been read – just not by me.

With the start of September comes the beginning of classes at Columbia University, as well as the stark realization that tuition is due. One of the 10 unread messages in my inbox was a friendly reminder from the bursar to get my act together and cut a check.

But it turns out Google got to my mail first and let their advertisers know that I am a graduate student and I might need a loan. There was a subtly placed ad for a student loan at the top of my screen.

I clicked on another message, this one from a friend telling me about her job search. Google had gotten to this one too, and served up an ad for

But the thing is, this doesn’t really bother me. It freaks some people out, but I’m OK with a little targeted advertising in exchange for a pretty decent and free web-based email service. Not everybody agrees, and some think this is one step toward a dangerous scenario where users’ personal data is misused and vulnerable.

But all this got me to thinking: Where is this going, and where does it end? What data should remain private, and what is a fair exchange for increased usability and new services on the web?

Started as a project for a graduate class at Columbia University, this blog will take a look at the changing landscape of online privacy.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting dilemma - as you point out, it's a free service... but do you ever really get something for nothing? (In other words, is there really no such thing as a free lunch?) Might be interesting to see how paid, private email services (ones that don't use such targeted advertising) fare in terms of subscriptions - but you'd also have to compare functionality, etc...

    -John Keenan