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Gmail TOS wording updated
pleeker

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 7:47 pm on Apr 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

Old language as quoted in Msg. #16 here [webmasterworld.com]:

Residual copies of email may remain on our systems, even after you have deleted them from your mailbox or after the termination of your account.

New language on the Gmail TOS page [gmail.google.com]:

In the event of termination, your account will be disabled and you may not be granted access to your account or any files or other content contained in your account although residual copies of information may remain in our system.

"Copies of email" versus "copies of information" ... does one sound less threatening to you?

They also have a feedback request at the top of the TOS page that I must've missed before if it was there.

 

Chndru

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 3:49 am on Apr 8, 2004 (gmt 0)

>>feedback request at the top of the TOS page

It's been there since the launch.

Scarecrow

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 11:45 am on Apr 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

For those interested in Gmail and privacy:

There have been two minor changes in Google's Gmail privacy policy [gmail.google.com]. While the changes themselves don't mean anything to those concerned about privacy issues with Gmail, they do suggest how Google plans to spin these two issues.

I. The "Residual Data" Issue

2004-03-31 language:

"Indeed, residual copies of email may remain on our systems, even after you have deleted them from your mailbox or after the termination of your account."

2004-04-08 language:

"Because we keep back-up copies of data for the purposes of recovery from errors or system failure, residual copies of email may remain on our systems for some time, even after you have deleted messages from your mailbox or after the termination of your account."

My comment: This is intended to defuse the fact that they have no data retention policy. These are the key issues that Google has not addressed: 1) Why don't they have a data retention policy? 2) Even if data is retained for backup purposes, and system maintenance is not designed or engineered toward systematic deletions, Google should have the capacity to insert a permanent flag on all email deleted by a user, or all email on a user's account if that user has terminated the account, so that any attempt to retrieve or recover any of that "deleted" data by any person or software at Google, is intercepted and denied.

If Google guarantees that they are doing this, then it is acceptable to have clusters on hard disks that are too much trouble to erase or overwrite, because these clusters would be inaccessible to anyone and everyone. This would also allow Google to honestly tell government officials, if they approach Google with a subpoena for "deleted" data, that such data cannot be produced. (It is a felony to lie to the FBI.) This would be a reasonable approach toward residual backup data. I believe that Google fully intends to keep this residual data accessible, because they have plans for it.

The Google File System (GFS), or whatever system is employed for Gmail, should be modified to include such a permanent "delete" flag if it does not already have this capacity. The issue isn't whether residual data remains; the issue is whether residual data is accessible.

II. The Cookie Issue

In the 2004-04-08 language, these two sentences were added under the cookie section:

"Google may share cookie information among its other services for the purpose of providing you a better experience. For example, you may use your Gmail account to access other Google services such as Google Groups or Google Answers."

My comment: It made Google look bad when GoogleWatch pointed out that by offering your email to Google in order to get Gmail update information, your main Google cookie and the long history behind it became personally identifiable.

After just one week, "hundreds of thousands" had entered their email on this form, according to Wayne Rosing, Google engineering VP. Based on the fact that Hotmail and Yahoo mail have tens of millions of sign-ups each, and Google offers much more disk capacity, it's safe to say that the number will be in the millions within a month.

This is an attempt by Google to soft-pedal the issue. The only thing that will satisfy me with respect to Google's cookie at this point, is for Google to delete the unique ID in the cookie that is issued for using the main search engine, and start replacing all of the cookies that already have a unique ID. The unique ID in this cookie is implicitly justified by Google as necessary for setting user preferences, but this is not true. They don't need a unique ID in their main search engine cookie to store preferences.

Google can have a second cookie with a unique ID in it for sign-on services such as Google Groups or Google Answers, and this can be issued after the subscriber is asked if they wish to rely on such a cookie, rather than log in each time to the special service. Again, Google is ducking the central issue.

blaze

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 12:17 pm on Apr 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

I wonder if Yahoo and Hotmail are lying about this - they really do have copies wandering around on their systems.

For example, a common technique by intelligence agencies is that they can take data off of hard drives even after it was so called deleted.

I bet I could sue Yahoo or Hotmail for not disclosing this.

Anyways, you'd think that if Google was struggling with this than Yahoo/Hotmail must be. Otherwise the techies are running a little too loose and wild around Googleplex and the business managers have to step in.

Phleem

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 3:08 am on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

>The issue isn't whether residual data remains; the
>issue is whether residual data is accessible.

Scarecrow, you've said this a couple of times in different places, and I have to say, it's just not true.

If the data exists, then someone with sufficient knowledge can get it, no matter what the application software does or what little bits have been turned on indicating that the data is supposedly deleted.

This applies to data in your filesystem, and even to files that have been deleted but whose blocks are still floating free and unrecycled in the filesystem.

To take your position to the logical conclusion, imagine what Google would have to say: "We immediately mark your email 'deleted' when you delete it and our software is not supposed to subsequently read it. But it still sits around on our computers. We promise not to write software to read it. And we'll watch our systems programmer to make sure they don't sneak in and look at it. Once the files themselves are deleted we've asked that none of our employees use the readily availible Unix tools that recover the content of freed disk blocks. And if a disk goes bad that has your data on it we'll ask that the people that get it don't recover your email off it using disk recovery tools."

Would that make you feel any better? It's really no different than what they've already said: when you delete something there are residual copies left around for an inderminate length of time.

Perhaps Google and other Web email vendors should be more clear about exactly how long the intend to keep intential copies of email around after a user has deleted it, but the policy that Google has stated so far is clearly just trying to inform people of the reality of this issue of copies of the data lurking around longer than most people would expect. Otherwise they would not have used the word "residual".

Scarecrow

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 3:58 am on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Would that make you feel any better?

Absolutely, it would totally solve the problem for me. This is not a technical issue; it's a corporate policy issue. Only a geek would see it as a purely technical issue.

Corporate sanctions such as immediate dismissal of any employee for accessing, or writing software to access, any deleted data after the retention period, is simply a matter of a memo sent out to all employees from the CEO. When I see this happen at Google, coupled with a reasonable retention period, I'll be happy.

Here's the crux of the issue: I believe that Google is exploiting the word "residual" to disguise the fact that they fully intend to allow deleted emails to be accessible in-house for an indefinite period, for their own corporate purposes.

Phleem

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 6:29 am on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

>Only a geek would see it as a purely technical issue.

Uh, the language is there just to address a technical issue: the data doesn't vanish up in smoke when you hit delete. It's a good thing us geeks are around or people like you would still be talking with tin cans and string, and probably complaining that people were listening in on your calls and telling others they needed "access policies" for how long to remember their conversations.

If you want Google to add something to address their retention policy you can ask them to, but it should be completely seperate from the issue of residual data remaining in the system. But maybe you should start with Hotmail and their 100M users if you think this is so important.

Do you think that other web email services with similar langauge are also trying to sneakily keep your email around to use for something nefarious? Have you been badgering them about their policies?

>Corporate sanctions such as immediate dismissal
>of any employee for accessing, or writing
>software to access, any deleted data after
>the retention period

It's not that simple. What if a bug causes something to be marked deleted in error? What if a legal request to retrieve it is received? What if an employee is retrieving their own deleted email? What if a user requests retrieval of an important deleted email after the retention period? What if a process to retrieve non-deleted email from a backup also brings back copies of deleted email? In at least one of those cases the company would be on the receiving end of an unpleasantly large lawsuit for terminating the employee. In the others they might be doing the wrong thing for stupid bureaucratic reasons.

If you don't trust Google to handle your data in ways acceptable to you, I suggest you not use Gmail. My personal feeling is you should never write anything in email that you don't want every person you know to see, and I'm not worried about these issues at all.

>Here's the crux of the issue: I believe that
>Google is exploiting the word "residual" to
>disguise the fact that they fully intend to allow
>deleted emails to be accessible in-house for an
>indefinite period, for their own corporate purposes.

Do you have any evidence or logic that someone that didn't already believe your somewhat paranoid thesis would find convincing?

bird

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 10:17 am on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

While the changes themselves don't mean anything to those concerned about privacy issues with Gmail,

Privacy is almost exclusively a matter of policy. Can you explain how changing a privacy policy possibly can't "mean anything" to people concerned about privacy issues?

Even if data is retained for backup purposes, and system maintenance is not designed or engineered toward systematic deletions, Google should have the capacity to insert a permanent flag on all email deleted by a user, or all email on a user's account if that user has terminated the account, so that any attempt to retrieve or recover any of that "deleted" data by any person or software at Google, is intercepted and denied.

As long as the data exists, there is no way to prevent "any person or software at Google" from accessing it, other than by policy. Adding a "deleted" flag doesn't make anything inaccessible to someone with access to the hardware. What you're asking for wouldn't solve any of the problems you apparently want it to solve.

I believe that Google fully intends to keep this residual data accessible, because they have plans for it.

You're accusing Google of lying to you without even a shred of evidence to support your accusation. The clarified policy clearly states their intentions, and it makes perfect sense to anyone understanding the technical issues. If you don't want to believe them, then that's your choice, but please don't blame *them* for your distrust.

The Google File System (GFS), or whatever system is employed for Gmail, should be modified to include such a permanent "delete" flag if it does not already have this capacity.

Backups of any non-trivial scale are typically stored on tapes. So you want them to rewind and modify potentially hundreds of tapes any time someone happens to cancel their Gmail account?

Based on the fact that Hotmail and Yahoo mail have tens of millions of sign-ups each,

Did you verify beyond reasonable doubt that Hotmail and Yahoo *don't* merge your e-mail identification with your search history? They have exactly the same possibilities, and they had them for many years without anyone complaining about it.

I wonder if Yahoo and Hotmail are lying about this - they really do have copies wandering around on their systems.

With respect to data backups, yes: Hotmail and Yahoo "lie by omission".
Any person with the technical understanding can almost garantee that "residual information" about your e-mail will remain on their systems even after you deleted your account. I've said it a few times already: The only difference between them and Google in this point is that Google is honest about what happens.

Anyways, you'd think that if Google was struggling with this than Yahoo/Hotmail must be.

Google isn't struggling with this. Some self acclaimed privacy activists are misrepresenting the basic facts.

>>Would that make you feel any better?

Absolutely, it would totally solve the problem for me. This is not a technical issue; it's a corporate policy issue. Only a geek would see it as a purely technical issue.

The version Phleem suggested doesn't add any real information to what Google's version already says. It just spells out a few side issues that any sane person would imply anyway. In fact, I'd expect that pointing out the technical possibilities to circumvent the existing privacy policy would scare even more people.

This is one of the most bizarre "tempest in a teapot" series of discussions I have participated in on webmasterworld for a very long time. It's fascinating what kind of unfounded paranoia misguided press coverage can induce in people...

Phleem

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 4:14 am on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

The new language on the Gmail site regarding residual deleted messages is pasted below. Is that enough to satisfy people that Google is saying they won't keep an eternal archive of everyone's email?

As part of providing a reliable service for users, Google keeps multiple backup copies of messages so that we can recover them in case of errors or system failure. Even if a message has been deleted or an account is no longer active, messages may remain on our backup systems for some period of time. This is standard practice in the email industry, which Gmail and other major webmail services follow. However, Google will make reasonable efforts to remove all deleted information from our systems as quickly as is practical.

Mark_A

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 9:30 am on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

Phleem you wrote:

"My personal feeling is you should never write anything in email that you don't want every person you know to see, and I'm not worried about these issues at all."

Phleem I presume you might accept that your view does not *have* to be taken as the law by everyone else in the world because others have rather different views.

Electronic and data protection legislation written to protect our privacy quite correctly take a very different line to that in both the UK and USA.

Phleem

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 6:48 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

>Phleem I presume you might accept that your
>view does not *have* to be taken as the
>law by everyone else in the world because
>others have rather different views.

Sure this is my personal opinion. But note that it isn't a matter of law that makes me feel this way, but of practicality: if you send email to someone there are many copies of that message made, and because there's no way to be sure where or when one of those copies will pop up, I don't say things in email that I don't want widely spread. My advice to others is to do the same, but people are free to do as they please.

>Electronic and data protection legislation
>written to protect our privacy quite correctly
>take a very different line to that in both the
>UK and USA.

I'm curious about the statutes you refer to here. Can you give a pointer?

I'd also note Gmail doesn't appear to violate UK privacy laws:

A spokeswoman for the UK Information Commissioner's Office said: "As long as it's transparent to people when they sign up that Google is monitoring their email usage and passing that information on for marketing purposes, then they probably wouldn't be breaking any legislation. Until Gmail's up and running, though, we can't be certain."

Since Google doesn't actually even "pass on" the information distilled out of the email to anyone, (it uses it briefly to choose ads, then discards it), it seems likely that this preliminary opinion is probably correct.

Mark_A

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 7:39 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

Phleem, coming back on your above message.

You wrote "I'm curious about the statutes you refer to here. Can you give a pointer?"

I mentioned some of them in my message in this thread.
[webmasterworld.com...]

You also say that "I'd also note Gmail doesn't appear to violate UK privacy laws: "

and go on to quote a UK Information Commissioner's Office spokesperson.

Well its perhaps down to interpretation and the lack of specific details from Google but I do think our privacy is being significantly invaded by the proposed Gmail service in its current form and at the moment the service, the terms and conditions and other legal papers surrounding it are in my opinion inadequate safeguards.

Google has not stated whether as an advertiser I will be able to target Gmail users in recipt of specific emails or if for some reason this will be impossible.

I am also not completely clear as to what adverts are permitted or are likely to be permitted to users in this Gmail private space into which I will not be able to see any abuses occurring.

I made a post (which is now - but may well move again) on post 7 of this thread
[webmasterworld.com...]

Where I suggest that this service may allow commercial firms to target all the recipients of a person's or organisation's email in effect allowing them to gain access to all these people with whom that person or organisation corresponds, for whatever reason personal or commercial.

Google with Gmail as it stands is *not* saying we will give you the identities of all this companies email which has found its way into our system,

rather it *is* saying we can find them for you and deliver your message to them.

This is simple logic based on adverts targetted at specific contents of email arriving wittingly or unwittingly into the as presently proposed Gmail service.

While that is not "precisely" the same as selling a list of all the people with whom a person or organisation communicates by email, which would under uk privacy laws I think be illegal, it could be very close to that in its effect.

And if for the sake of argument advertisers were permitted to offer something like "$100 reward for registering" in an advert which appeared to all the recipients of a companies commercial email, then Google will in some market sectors have effectively sold access to the customer lists of one company to its competitors without the sending email's company ever having expressed any consent to the terms of the Gmail service as proposed at this time.

If someone did this now, to against a companies consent obtain by scanning by humans or machines a list of the recipients of all their communication and sold it .. at the moment I am pretty certain that this would breach privacy laws both here in the UK and in the USA.

What Google seem to me to be proposing with Gmail in its current form is on its way toward this situation which would be unacceptable.

For me debate about deletions and backup copies and the suchlike is distraction from the issues where this aspect of privacy I mention above is concerned.

Scarecrow

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 8:30 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

The UK Information Commissioner has written to Privacy International to say that they will not at the moment be taking action on Google. This is because they cannot display "bad faith," as Google told them it would not release the service in the UK without consulting first.

However, other European national regulators are less trusting. PI intends lodging complaints on Monday with authorities in the Netherlands, France, Germany (federal and states), Portugal, Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Czech Republic, Belgium, Ireland, Austria and Greece, along with the European Commission.

Scarecrow

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 8:54 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

Phleem says:

The new language on the Gmail site regarding residual deleted messages is pasted below. Is that enough to satisfy people that Google is saying they won't keep an eternal archive of everyone's email?

As part of providing a reliable service for users, Google keeps multiple backup copies of messages so that we can recover them in case of errors or system failure. Even if a message has been deleted or an account is no longer active, messages may remain on our backup systems for some period of time. This is standard practice in the email industry, which Gmail and other major webmail services follow. However, Google will make reasonable efforts to remove all deleted information from our systems as quickly as is practical.

I cannot find this language on the FAQ, the privacy policy, or the terms-of-use. Please give a URL.

bedlam

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 9:24 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

It's a little difficult to find Scarecrow, but here it is:

[gmail.google.com...]

-B

Scarecrow

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 10:23 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

However, Google will make reasonable efforts to remove deleted information from our systems as quickly as is practical.

This is the only line that's a little bit new.

This will not satisfy privacy advocates, assuming it even makes it formally into the privacy policy. "Reasonable efforts" gives no assurance that anything at all will be done, as all Google has to do is tell the judge that any such efforts would have been "unreasonable" if they get sued by a former account holder.

Google is resisting pressure to make any sort of corporate policy commitment on the issue of deleted email. They are resisting it so strongly that it's becoming suspicious all by itself.

Yes, there are some retention periods involved with deleted mail at other email services. But I believe that they are minimal, and that other services have little interest in retaining deleted email.

Privacy advocates are very interested in such policies at all ISPs and email services. However, since Google is offering 1 gigabyte and others typically offer 4 megs, this means that it is many times more important what Google's policy is with respect to deleted email. That's because the average closed account will have much more content associated with it than closed accounts on other email services.

This is why privacy advocates are interested in clarifying the situation with deleted mail at Google. If they cannot get Google to offer assurances about deleted email when the problem is 1 gigabyte large, then they have no hope of success anywhere else.

pleeker

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 10:37 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

This is the only line that's a little bit new.

<yawn>

Actually, the entire more.html page is new.

Scarecrow

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 8 posted 10:44 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

<sigh>
I meant "new" as in "substantive elaboration on policy matters." Not "new" as in "more spin in support of positions already elaborated in the privacy policy and terms-of-use."

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