The text below is NOT mine. But I agree with pretty much everything it says, and it says things about email, instant messaging and online identity that everybody should know, here it goes.
Does a new feature give Gmail users control over how emails are used? No. Not really, no (update 2018/05/06: and I found out is even worst than it seemed).
Eight years ago, I wrote that, when it comes to email, the more interesting barrier to its proper usage may be laws that only see companies and individuals, but nothing in between. A case under appeal now in the USA shows that, indeed, this may be the case.
By now, you probably already know that Yahoo scanned customer emails for U.S. intelligence”, and if you haven’t you can read all the details in the previous link, or in many other places. Here, I only want to point out one thing, mainly but not only to software geeks, and to any organizations whose goal include promoting privacy:
The ubiquitousness of no-brain-required social networks and mobile apps has made many people forget, or never learn, a boring truth of digital life: a LOT non-ephemeral online communication still happens via less glamorous, but much more effective tools like email and mailing list. This can have unintended consequences. It is in your interest to understand this, because it is still almost impossible that you can live an adult life without using email at all, and it will be so for a few more years, at least.
Sometimes support comes in the most unexpected ways. Today the NSA, the super-secret spy agency that intercepts countless digital communications worldwide, greatly helped me, by providing evidence that a little project of mine is a really great idea that is sorely needed NOW.
UPDATE 2013/09/17: THIS PROJECT NOW HAS A HOME AT per-cloud.com
I have been using my own email service and self-hosted blogs since 2006⁄2007. I started explaining why everybody should do the same three years ago, when I proposed Virtual Personal Email Servers to overcome the big limits of today’s email. In 2011 I repeated why it is important to find alternatives to Gmail.
Since real support for privacy, control and data ownership should be present in everything we do online, last January I also pointed out that alternatives to corporate social networks already exist and only need proper packaging.
Now the Snowden/NSA/PRISM affair has finally made evident, to an audience immensely larger than geek circles, that I (with many others of course) was right. Everybody, including non-geeks (no: starting from them) should have, as soon as possible, at least the possibility to:
- Using third party services like Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, Flickr, etc… to communicate and work online is very convenient but also has huge drawbacks: even ignoring the privacy issues exposed by the Snowden affair, you become completely dependent on a private (foreign) company that may cancel your account in any moment, because they basically feel like it, or even disappear in a few years (Facebook or Google too big to fail? That’s the same thing people said of Geocities or MySpace just a few years ago).
Even in this age of private and public organizations merrily handing out their email Gmail or some other “cloud” provider, there still are lots of organizations that run their own email server. This is better, in my opinion, for reasons I have already explained in “Wanted: Virtual Personal Email Servers”. Every now and then, however, the administrator of one of those servers goes online and asks something like “how can I automatically refuse or delete all email coming from certain countries?“