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You and I here in WebmasterWorld know that Yahoo, MSN or whoever has just as much technology / disinclination to view / scan and evaluate for marketing purposes, my emails as anyone else does.
But when I told my wife that I'd created a gmail account for her, and discussed some of the issues surrounding the serving of discrete context based ads, rather than flashy banners, and how they do it, she basically said "forget it!".
I suspect that a number of my family and friends will also avoid sending emails to me for fear of their opinions etc being public - regardless of how silly you and I may think this is.
I cannot see this issue going away without significant community education - and perhaps this may turn out to be a rather nice side effect of the gmail release (and all the hoo haa) - even greater user education that all email is only just a peek over the fence from the public domain.
I know that gmail is not for our more serious business matters - but what's the point in having an email address that people are afraid to contact you on?
I also think the argument of your email triggering ads for your competitors is ridiculus. If you cannot write an email to your potential customer that is more convincing than a 2 line text ad you deserve to loose the customer. Besides what is the alternative, not to communicate with your potential customers.
Anyway in your Profile of a Gmail user:
You are a libertarian who thinks that Google's founders deserve
to be billionaires.
The property rights of transnational corporations are more
important than human rights in the Third World
In your view, government regulation of corporations is evil.
You are a victim of the buzz generated by legions of high-tech
pundits who have been giving Gmail rave reviews, and belittling the
privacy issues. (Google has been feeding free accounts to friendly
columnists, who respond with servile gratitude. We are aware of only
two privacy advocates who have been offered Gmail accounts, compared
to dozens of geeky columnists, and hundreds of pro-Google bloggers.)
You have no respect for the rights of those who respond to you,
because you have already decided that Google deserves the privilege of
evaluating and profiting from the words of those who answer your
email, even though no one has ever asked the sender of the message
You are unaware that creeping commercialism is undermining the
Internet experience. You may not even be aware that the Internet was
noncommercial until the mid-1990s.
You are unconcerned about social issues such as privacy, surveillance and repression. Your attitude is typical of teenagers with little appreciation of history. When such teenagers go to college and major in computer science, business administration, or public relations, they still don't know anything about history.
Just my 2 cents, and now to go check my gmail inbox:-)