Книга: Code 2.0

E-mail

E-mail

Electronic mail is a text-based message stored in digital form. It is like a transcribed telephone call. When sent from one person to another, e-mail is copied and transmitted from machine to machine; it sits on these different machines until removed either by routines — decisions by machines — or by people.

The content of many e-mail messages is like the content of an ordinary telephone call — unplanned, unthinking, the ordinary chatter of friends. But unlike a telephone call, this content is saved in a searchable form. Companies now invest millions in technologies that scan the conversations of employees that before were effectively private. Both in real time and in retrospect, the content of conversations can become known. On the theory that they “own the computer[5]”, employers increasingly snoop in the e-mail of employees, looking for stuff they deem improper[6].

In principle, such monitoring and searching are possible with telephone calls or letters. In practice, these communications are not monitored. To monitor telephones or regular mail requires time and money — that is, human intervention. And this cost means that most won’t do it. Here again, the costs of control yield a certain kind of freedom.

Controlling employees (or spouses) is one important new use of e-mail technologies. Another is the better delivery of advertisement. Google is again the leader here with its new Gmail service. Gmail can advertise to you as you read your e-mail. But the advance is that the advertisement is triggered by the content of the e-mail. Imagine a television that shifted its advertisement as it heard what you were talking about on the phone. The content of the e-mail — and perhaps the content of your inbox generally — helps determine what is shown to you.

To make this system work well, Google needs you to keep lots of data on its servers. Thus the only thing within Gmail that is difficult to do — and it is really really difficult — is to delete content from a Google Gmail account. Gmail lets you delete one screen at a time. But when you have 20,000 e-mails in your inbox, who has time? Would it be difficult for Gmail to enable a “delete all” function? Of course not. This is Google! Thus, through the clever use of architecture, Google assures more data is kept, and that data then becomes a resource for other purposes. If you ever get involved in a lawsuit, the first question of the lawyer from the other side should be — do you have a Gmail account? Because, if you do, your life sits open for review.

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