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Speculating About Gmail 612

rjelks writes "The Register is running an article about Google's new email service that was mentioned earlier, here. The story details the new privacy concerns about Gmail's privacy policy and Google's tracking habits. The policy states that Google will not guarantee the deletion of emails that are archived even if you cancel your account. 'The contents of your Gmail account also are stored and maintained on Google servers in order to provide the service. 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.'" Reader cpfeifer writes "Rich Skrenta (founder of ODP, and Topix) speculates in his blog that the real product Google is creating isn't web search or email, but a massively scalable, distributed computing platform. 'It's a distributed computing platform that can manage web-scale datasets on 100,000 node server clusters. It includes a petabyte, distributed, fault tolerant filesystem, distributed RPC code, probably network shared memory and process migration. And a datacenter management system which lets a handful of ops engineers effectively run 100,000 servers.' If he's right, the question isn't what product will Google announce next, but what product will they not be able to announce?"
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Speculating About Gmail

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  • Hmm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:07AM (#8766959)
    I was still under the impression that this could be an april fools.

    I am assuming from the way this reads that it has actually been confirmed?
    • Re:Hmm (Score:4, Informative)

      by dorsey ( 119963 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:13AM (#8766978)
      Yes [usatoday.com].
    • by ron_ivi ( 607351 ) <sdotno@cheapcomp ... s.com minus poet> on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:14AM (#8766983)
      I've seen Fry's have 200GB drives on sale for $79 before; and I'm sure if you're buying them in units of 10,000 they're even cheaper than that.

      What amazes me are the services that offer I'm acting as a mini-isp to friends, and with a $50/month dedicated server we're renting, $10/month gets us 10GB of email+web storage.

      Hard drive capacity has gone up a lot since the time of HotMail - I'm amazed no free email service started offering reasonable disk space earlier.

      • by ron_ivi ( 607351 ) <sdotno@cheapcomp ... s.com minus poet> on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:16AM (#8767001)
        Darn < sign made that second paragraph uninteligible. Should have read

        What amazes me are the services that offer <100MB storage. I'm acting as a mini-isp to friends, and with a $50/month dedicated server we're renting, $10/month gets us 10GB of email+web storage.

      • by pla ( 258480 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:22AM (#8767028) Journal
        I've seen Fry's have 200GB drives on sale for $79 before; and I'm sure if you're buying them in units of 10,000 they're even cheaper than that.

        True. However, 1PB would require over 5200 of them. Which would in turn require over 650 machines to stick them in (at 8 drives per node, itself probably a tad high since the bus would grind to a crawl in such a machine). All that adds up to at least half of a million dollars.

        And for what - Something that amounts to a community service project? Hey, I'll give Google full credit for their current image in the geek community, but this seems a tad ridiculous.

        So, I'd say they must have some sort of ulterior motive behind this. Either using huge numbers of people as guinnea pigs to test their new infrastructure (as the topic poster suggests), or something we haven't thought of yet. But just for the hell of it? Probably not.
        • by ron_ivi ( 607351 ) <sdotno@cheapcomp ... s.com minus poet> on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:24AM (#8767043)
          I'm curious what the cost in disk-space of a hotmail account was back when hotmail launched. I wouldn't be surprised if it's comparable to what Google's offering now.
        • by AlecC ( 512609 ) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:34AM (#8767091)
          Which would in turn require over 650 machines to stick them in (at 8 drives per node, itself probably a tad high since the bus would grind to a crawl in such a machine). All that adds up to at least half of a million dollars.

          In that kind of quantlty I could do you a Raid controller driving, say, 128 drives, for about the cost of one machine. You need to Raid it anyway - you couldn't sau "sorry, we lost all your emails when on drive went down". I would bet that Google have some kind of economy raid controller in the works even if not yet deployed.

          Bandwidth isn't the problem. How much bandwidth do you spend reading email? Most of that data will sit there unread for months.
          • by blorg ( 726186 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @06:46AM (#8767521)
            ...but rather (all this according to the article [topix.net]) their own distributed, fault-tolerant Google Filesystem (GFS) [rochester.edu] [PDF]. Apparently each of their 1/2 depth 1U servers has only one or two drives. If a server fails (which happens routinely with 100k servers) then it's simply left in place and the data is automatically replicated onto another server from one of the redundant copies.
            • by ron_ivi ( 607351 ) <sdotno@cheapcomp ... s.com minus poet> on Monday April 05, 2004 @07:02AM (#8767561)
              Thanks for the links. I was going to mention the same thing, but didn't find the article as fast as you.

              As the parent pointed out (mod him up), Google's GFS is better than a large raid system in many ways. While a RAID system tolerates the failures of individual disks (which then need to be replaced), Google's GFS _expects_ the failure of most components, including CPUs, memorys, disks, systems, etc -- and in google's case nothing has to be replaced.

              Their system is so fault tollerant, Cringly writes: [pbs.org] "Now here is the part that sticks in my mind: the fault tolerant nature of the cluster is such that if a machine fails, the other machines simply take over its functions. As a result, whenever a server fails at Google, THEY DO NOTHING. They don't replace the broken machine. They don't remove the broken machine. They don't even turn it off. In an army of drones, it isn't worth the cost of labor to locate and replace the bad machines. Hundreds, maybe thousands of machines lie dead, uncounted among the 10,000 plus. "

              This is far cooler than any RAID from a fault-tollerance point of view.

              (apparently since then google went to rack-based systems so it probably detects dead ones so they can replace them easily)

        • by untermensch ( 227534 ) * on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:35AM (#8767096)
          So, I'd say they must have some sort of ulterior motive behind this

          Don't forget that Google has ads too. They may not be big and flashy but companies will pay a _lot_ of money to have their ad come out on top for certain search keywords.

          The same will be true for Gmail. Remeber that they admit that machines will be crawling through our mail to allow them to bring us targeted ads. And if any internet activity is more popular than a google web search, it's email. The sheer volume of email flying around on something with the scope that Google is aiming for, will produce a whole lot of ads.
          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 05, 2004 @05:06AM (#8767206)
            So from reading our e-mail they'll find out that 99% of its users are interested in penis enlargement?
          • by blorg ( 726186 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @07:56AM (#8767746)
            I'd question whether people would be as receptive to targeted ads in their email, however. I often search with the aim of making a purchase, and will happily click on the Google ads if they are relevant. This is not so often the case with email, however - the only situations that I can think of where I'd be responsive to targeted ads would be pre-sales query responses from merchants, or the one or two price bulletins I'm subscribed to (e.g. if they can mention somewhere I can get X cheaper.) But these types of emails would not be half as common as my use of search.

            So to me, GMail looks like a service that will be massively more expensive per user for Google, with a lower return from click-throughs.

            Anyone have any ideas of other situations where these ads might be successful (e.g. clicked on)?
            • by Ath ( 643782 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @08:51AM (#8768044)
              Gmails targeted ads will potentially be magnitudes more accurate because they are based on your private conversations across email. If you send an email to a friend recommending he buy a Dell computer, my guess is that your friend will start seeing some ads from Dell on his mail page. That is a very simple example of what Google has in mind for targeted advertisements.
        • by tekunokurato ( 531385 ) <jackphelps@gmail.com> on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:37AM (#8767104) Homepage
          of course they do. it's a war for your eyes. they make money by your searches and dispatching you to different sites. They will likewise make money off ads shown while you browse your e-mail. if ms introduces a comparable search engine like they suggest they will, google will suffer heavily since people will be much more able to use hotmail and ms search when they're well integrated. by offering e-mail, google will be able to keep you from ever needing to use an ms (or yahoo!) service.
        • by pen ( 7191 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:52AM (#8767161)
          The "ulterior motive" is pretty obvious; In fact, it's out in the open -- just read the privacy policy. They will scan your e-mail for keywords and display targeted advertising.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 05, 2004 @05:25AM (#8767264)

          Don't forget that while people will be allowed to have up to 1GB of emails in their mailbox, it doesn't mean Google will have users x 1GB of disk space. Most people won't use the 1GB of mailbox space.

          I worked on the mail system of the largest provider in my country. We had 700,000 customers with 15 MB mailboxes and we had something like 1/10 of the disk space required if all the mailboxs were full. And this worked just fine.

          Not only Google won't need all that disk space, bu they will probably purchase additional disk space as it becomes necessary. It's smarter to buy new hard disks later than all the disk space immediately, they'll be cheaper.
        • by Knetzar ( 698216 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @05:26AM (#8767265)
          If you offer 1gb to a lot of people, you can find ways to compress all that data. For example, when mail (example: spam) is sent to 100 people, keep 1 copy of the message and give everyone a link to that message. Also, text compresses pretty well, so using some CPU power they can save on hard drive space. And I doubt that most people will come close to the 1gb limit, so google might be able to offer this while only having to have a fraction of the storage space.
        • by Louis Guerin ( 728805 ) <(guerin) (at) (gmx.net)> on Monday April 05, 2004 @06:16AM (#8767430)
          a community service project?

          You're kidding, right? Gmail is four things that I can see, and none of them are community service:
          • AdSense fulfilling its destiny, by (eventually) gaining an extra several hundred million pairs of eyes every day
          • A massive experiment in distributed computing and data management, the fruits of which will be phenomenally valuable
          • The ability to simultaneously put every other free email provider (and by force of ubiquity, every competing search engine) out of business, just in time for an IPO. Yes, Microsoft, Yahoo, that means YOU.
          Nope, nothing charitable about it. L
          • by smallfries ( 601545 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @08:30AM (#8767917) Homepage
            Whilst you do make some insightful observations, you can't count to four can you ;^)

            Nit-picking aside, your second reason is a community service, Google are really good at publishing the results of their research. That experiment in distributed computing is not just going to advance the state of the art in scalable systems, its going to drive it.
        • by GregWebb ( 26123 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @08:04AM (#8767778)
          I instantly thought of compression when I saw this. So much of what they collect will be flat-out identical like mass forwards, spam, newsletters, mailing lists and so on. Much of the rest will have significant identical components, like common footers. Why are we assuming they're not compressing across the database? I know I would investigate that if setting this sort of thing up, and as the projects using gzip as a tool to assess similarity have discovered, it can potentially provide much useful fringe data.

        • by danila ( 69889 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @12:35PM (#8770298) Homepage
          Your figures indicate a cost of 50 cents per account, much less if you oversell (which is harmless, since capacity can be easily added). How much extra ad impressions (and thus ad-clicks) will they have? A lot, and that would quickly pay back the investment. Of course, we ignore the costs of bandwidth and labor, but my point is they are relatively small, even if you give 1Gb of storage.
      • by God! Awful 2 ( 631283 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:53AM (#8767167) Journal
        E-mail? Who needs another free e-mail account? Thank you Google for giving me an unlimited supply of network attached storage!

    • by CvD ( 94050 )
      Well, this article [forbes.com] in Forbes seems to confirm that it isn't a joke, but then Forbes has been known to be untrustworthy...
    • Very Real (Score:5, Informative)

      by irokitt ( 663593 ) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (ruai-setirdnamihcra)> on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:29AM (#8767071)
      Yes, it's real. The 1000 MB storage limit is listed at the GMail homepage here [google.com].

      If you are ainterested in an account, you can give them you current e-mail here [google.com]
      and they will send information once GMail goes gold.
      Also note that Firefox and Mozilla support is explicitly mentioned!
  • Skynet (Score:5, Funny)

    by kris ( 824 ) <kris-slashdot@koehntopp.de> on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:08AM (#8766962) Homepage
    My god! They are building Skynet! When will it achieve sentience?
  • Only one? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zackeller ( 653801 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:08AM (#8766965)
    Here's my question: how are they going to make sure people only have one account each? What's to prevent people from getting dosens and backing up their harddrive?
    • Re:Only one? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by radionotme ( 742163 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:14AM (#8766984)
      Probably in a similar way to other email services, there will be a maximum size to attachments. Even if it was set at double the size of competitors, that would still only be about 10MB - how many people are seriously going to back up their hard drives in 10MB chunks?
      • Re:Only one? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:27AM (#8767059)
        Hmm, my music collection is already in (mostly) sub-10MB chunks. A few scripts and a few accounts, and it sounds really useful as a backup device.
      • Re:Only one? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by pla ( 258480 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:29AM (#8767074) Journal
        How many people are seriously going to back up their hard drives in 10MB chunks?

        The whole HDD? Probably not many (although I suppose you could zip it and span into floppy-sized chunks... <shudder> I remember doing that back in the days of mere 40MB HDDs, and it sucked. Don't even want to imagine it now).

        But, imagine this - Upload your entire Ogg/MP3 collection, as a set of email attachments. Poof, instant access to your entire music library from anywhere on the planet. Not exactly "instant" access, but good enough over broadband to stream in realtime.

        Which leads to another point - Will Google bother making it difficult to get files into and out of your storage, or just let us basically abuse it however we want?
        • Re:Only one? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by phurley ( 65499 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @12:18PM (#8770126) Homepage
          If I were Google, I would implement some form of bandwidth throttle, with a sliding time window per account and per connection. That way it could not be seriously abused.

          Otherwise I would see this as a near perfect vehicle for warez/mp3/etc... I huge distributed file system in the sky, it could easily be wrapped accessing it like usenet with no "falling off" the server. You would have a number of "key" accounts that index the data accounts, which distribute the data across any number of accounts and messages in those accounts - all with googles bandwidth.

    • Re:Only one? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nuffle ( 540687 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:22AM (#8767029)
      Here's my question: how are they going to make sure people only have one account each? What's to prevent people from getting dosens and backing up their harddrive?
      Maybe they don't care.

      Maybe this is the first step of Google trying to provide universal storage for everyone. I'd guess it's safe to say that Google now does more processing than anyone else on Earth (searching through the internet for nearly every internet user). Perhaps now they're investigating offering to be the main provider for another resource: storage.

      • Re:Only one? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by silentbozo ( 542534 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:43AM (#8767125) Journal
        Amazing. At some point, Google could have copies of every new document or content produced, all for the cost of hosting. They would, by default, become the next Library of Congress.

        So, who's the lucky supplier that has the contract to provide all the drives and computer assemblies? Any RFP's available for wiring all this stuff up and maintaining it?
      • by goldspider ( 445116 ) <.ardrake79. .at. .gmail.com.> on Monday April 05, 2004 @09:12AM (#8768176) Homepage
        "Maybe this is the first step of Google trying to provide universal storage for everyone."

        Imagine for a moment that this story was about Microsoft, and the ensuing madness that the statement "Maybe this is the first step of Microsoft trying to provide universal storage for everyone" would cause.

        But because it's Google, Slashdot readers give them a free pass. What makes you all think that Google's intent is so purely benevolent? I would think that the suspicious nature of Slashdotters would regard such an expansive enterprise with much skepticism.

    • Thats easy... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Biotech9 ( 704202 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:25AM (#8767047) Homepage
      Here's my question: how are they going to make sure people only have one account each? What's to prevent people from getting dosens and backing up their harddrive?

      They don't limit the number of accounts, they just limit attatchment size and keep an eye out for abuses, like hundreds of downloads of from 1 account, or a scripted mailing of hundreds of 10 meg attatchments to any one account.
    • by Clinoti ( 696723 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:39AM (#8767114)
      As the runaway thought process of the submitter suggested, they may be extremly interested in not who's data or the redunant data they inherit but instead the shear scope and depth of the information that will now become available to them. Let us not forget for a moment that a web search engine is only as good as the data it provides and Google is already one of the largest data collectors on the planet.

      A project like this would take garbage and sift through it to find, make, stamp and press gold.

      The skynet jokes while funny, don't do anything to curtain the tin foil wonderment at possibly the greatest data mining/data tool created to date.

      This story is bigger than it appears. ((um...and greetings to the new data overlords :P)))

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:09AM (#8766966)
    If so, I think I'll put in a resume for a job on, what was it - the Copernicus base?

    Gmail was an April Fools Day joke, yes?
  • by Moonpie Madness ( 764217 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:10AM (#8766970)
    its a different sort of tool, with the advantager of tracking etc and the disadvantage of not being private. just keep that in mind and there arent many problems. i love the idea, and ill use it if i can. i wont say anything extreme or criminal, and really, it is their property, so they can offer it for my use with whatever terms they like. IP rights and plagarism ideas are rapidly changing in our shrinking world, so keep that in mind
    • by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @07:57AM (#8767752) Journal
      While I wouldn't want anything that's really private on this account, I wouldn't want it on hotmail either. I'd either use encryption over existing free services (less tracability) or just use my own mailserver.

      Things like credit card numbers, bank data, passwords etc. will be perfectly safe, even if the data is scanned. Google are smart enough not to have the publicity problems they would get if they revealed any private info, and it's not really as if anyone cares what my email says. They are scanned for advertising purposes, they are not proof read to see if anything interesting is happening in my life. I feel safe because I know Google won't do anything with my financail details because they have PR people who know that would cripple their service uptake and I know they couldn't care less about my personal life.

      Having said that, for me and I'm sure plenty of other slashdotters it's a moot point - I have my own mailserver which I can check on my home machine via thunderbird, my phone via the built in GPRS mail client and from anywhere else with a browser via squirrelmail. 10GB storage, no attachment limits and unlimited addresses I can check from anywhere - it's easily worth what I pay for it.
  • by bersl2 ( 689221 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:12AM (#8766977) Journal
    so I think they get the benefit of the doubt until further notice.

    Does anybody have anything to the contrary?
    • Well, Google has pretty much become the de facto portal to most people's information. The potential to filter that information and influence public opinion is scary. Of course, they wouldn't try anything until they've completely spread their roots into everything, but they are already on the way of getting there. What monopoly could be more dangerous than information monopoly?
      • But they haven't shown any sign of trying to exploit it dangerously yet. And they haven't shown any signs of anti-competitive behaviour. The only lock-in method they use is the honourable one of providing a better service.

        Google rose fast. If it misbehaved, it could fall fast. There are plenty of competitors waiting in the wings, some with plenty of budget (M$, Yahoo).

        I think that we should give Google the benefit of the doubt - while keeping eyes wide open. Abuse of power occurs when people think they ca
  • Privacy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:13AM (#8766980)
    I presume I probably wasn't the only person who put their email address into the 'interested in an account?' section on the gmail website before remembering that it could be linked to all my previous searches on this machine... http://www.google-watch.org/email.html [google-watch.org] suggests deleting the google.com cookie before and afterwards, but might be too late for that...

    • Re:Privacy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:34AM (#8767092)
      Yeah, but don't forget to read Google-Watch-Watch [google-watch-watch.org] - that Daniel Brandt is, to put it politely, completely bananas. A fruit-loop. One badger short of a sett. A total lampshade.

      If Google are tracking everyone for targeting advertising, etc, why does everyone get near-identical search results for the same search queries? And why are the adverts quite obviously keyword-based? (Search for 'digital camera drivers linux', for instance, and get adverts for digital cameras).

      • Re:Privacy (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Kevin Stevens ( 227724 ) <kevstevNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday April 05, 2004 @09:07AM (#8768153)
        Even if they are tracking you for targetted advertising... then so what? I am sure the information comes in handy- IE when my mom types in the keyword "apples" into google that she probably wants some candles or a painting or some massive doily to sheath our house in or whatever, but when I type it in I want to see some G5's or ipods. I am sure there are other uses than just clarifying ambiguous search terms. Amazon uses similar techniques, and their recommendations when I log in are usually pretty on the spot- IE stuff that if given unlimited time and money, I would buy.

        Unless they start sending me unsolicited spam, either via email or to my house, I have no problem with this. I often appreciate the targeted ads on google. Especially since the spammers started creeping in, sometimes the ads are more what im looking for than the actual results. Anything not personally identifying is A-ok with me.

        Google has been pretty legit so far, and has gone well out of its way to keep its users happy, so nailing them to the cross over something that might happen seems premature.
  • It's great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blitzoid ( 618964 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:13AM (#8766981) Homepage
    I think Gmail is going to be great. It completely blows any other free email service out of the water. So what if privacy is in question? Nobody is forcing anyone to use it. You can use it, enjoy it, and if you really care you can just not send anything you don't want others seeing and use a different address for recieving sensitive emails. Or you can just NOT use it, and go on your way. This isn't a big deal.

    Google is just providing a service. Use it if you want, or don't.
  • by ForestGrump ( 644805 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:14AM (#8766986) Homepage Journal
    "the contents of your Gmail account also are stored and maintained on Google servers in order to provide the service. 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."

    Go ahead and horde my spam. I don't want it anyway.
  • by mabinogi ( 74033 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:14AM (#8766990) Homepage
    I think this is what made it the best april fools joke - the fact that it wasn't.

    So all those that came up with all the reasons why it must have been a joke, are the ones that were fooled.
  • by Ben Jackson ( 30284 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:16AM (#8767000) Homepage
    They're going to have mirrors, snapshots, backups, offsite backups, remote replication... Expecting them to purge your email when you delete your account is crazy.
  • by Biotech9 ( 704202 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:16AM (#8767004) Homepage
    'The contents of your Gmail account also are stored and maintained on Google servers in order to provide the service. 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.'

    If I can get a free account, myname@google.com, with 1 GB of storage, and with IMAP or POP3, I don't give a damn if they use my mail for marketing research, or if they keep it long after I'm dead. The reason is I don't work for M16, the KGB or the CIA, I only break little laws and I don't dig child porno. So basically who cares if a few of my mails get left on a server somewhere.

    Privay is a real concern, but worrying about this is like worrying about the fact that postmen can read your postcard when you send it. The truth is they can, but they don't give a shit.
    • try 'yourname@gmail.com'

      in order to get yourname at google, you have to work there (which I have made it a life's goal to do!)
    • by John Starks ( 763249 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:46AM (#8767137)
      Ha! You don't care about Google being able to read your mail now, but what about when you get into a position of power that someone doesn't like. All they have to do is pay off someone at Google to go through your old email and find something a bit questionable in your past. Had an illicit affair over email? Had physical or emotional problems and discussed it with someone? Used drugs and let people know? Bought enhancing prescription drugs or other "adult" products online and had the bill sent via email? Heck, have you ever expressed an opinion over email that might not make you look good in the public eye? With the kind of storage we're talking about, it'll be in Google's computers as long as they want. And with enough money, people can pay to have it dug up.

      Remember, privacy is NOT just for people breaking the law. Privacy is for anyone and everyone that lives in our society. In fact, by posting messages like the one you've posted here, you are doing everyone a disservice. We always must fight for our right to have private lives. Encryption for everyone.
      • by scrm ( 185355 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @05:40AM (#8767302) Homepage
        what about when you get into a position of power that someone doesn't like. All they have to do is pay off someone at Google to go through your old email and find something a bit questionable in your past.

        You're right. But it's been the same deal with Hotmail and the other webmail services for years. Or hosting providers for that matter. Or even ISPs (that could potentially store all the data that you exchange with their servers).

        If you're really worried about people digging up dirt on you if you get into a position of power, it's probably better to stay away from the Internet entirely.
  • whats the problem? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Prowl ( 554277 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:17AM (#8767005)
    No-one's going to force you to use the system. If you don't trust it, don't use it.
  • by Albert Sandberg ( 315235 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:19AM (#8767016) Homepage
    torrents.google.com ... it doesn't have to be illegal contents.
  • by nordicfrost ( 118437 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:22AM (#8767030)
    ...Happy birthday, April! [google.com]

    Seriously, it is nice to see that the Google system is not so overly polished that they wipe out any traces of human emotions and cute little oddites.

    Happy birthday, April!
  • Going public ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by $exyNerdie ( 683214 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:23AM (#8767033) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if the Gmail service would be available to general public before their IPO? That might increase the value of their stock significantly. Also, once public, they have to answer to investors to maximize the return...and change of management/merger could very well mean significant privacy issues.
    If/when Gmail is available, I would use it to store big file attachments (mainly storage) and still use my regular ISP for normal day-to-day communications UNLESS GOOGLE GUARANTEES COMPLETE PRIVACY NOW AND IN FUTURE and no caching of deleted emails and no tracking (seems highly unlikely)...

  • Distributed system (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:25AM (#8767045)
    A distributed system is something truly worthy of the doctorate pedigree of Google's staff. They have an incredible concentration of brain power and I have always found it hard to believe they need all that to add a few more boxes to run a simple page weight algorithm and a web crawler.

    Finally, it all makes sense. They're trying to put all (but a few of) the sysadmins out of work! A noble enterprise, indeed. We hate them, they hate themselves.

    But seriously, this has been a dream of admins for a long time. 'Bout time somebody sat down and did it. Why can't a single box manage 100,000 others? If one man can do 100 with the right tools he could do them all. The difficulty of transparency is incredible, but even small teams in universities utilizing a few phd's and transient graduate students are making headway in the area. No reason a well funded lab of hundreds of phds working full time can't achieve it.

    Wow... I guess the BIG question is what they'll do with it. I mean... are they just doing it for their existing products? Are they going to license it out for astronomical sums to places like Lockheed and Sandia? Will they (gasp) open source it? Or, most frightening, they will run the world's largest, most efficient super computer and charge pennies for utility based computing and put Sun and IBM out of business in the process of creating a mainframe monopoly out of whiteboxes. Heck... they could probably buy out Sun to get that sweet Solaris technology for themselves. IBM has all kinds of retarded patents for toilet seats and ways to dance on an office chair. I guess they're worth getting for a laugh.
  • they're good! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NeedleSurfer ( 768029 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:28AM (#8767068)
    obviously if this is the goal they want to achieve, why would they hide it to the world?

    What would be the point? This is not a new concept or something no one ever though of, the only true obstacle to such a thing is money, they'll need a lot of it.

    I read here (http://macslash.org/article.pl?sid=04/03/31/23412 49&mode=thread) that xserves G5 were going to power such a thing, 100 000 xserve G5 (Virginia tech made it clear they didn't get any deal so why Google would) can reach between 299 million and 579 million US dollar. Add to that the cooling, the room, the interconnect and all those little niceties that comes with it and it turns out that the project will cost a lot of money, not impossible but still. It will also probably need to come with its own electrical system, a mini-central if you wish, else it will cost them quite a lot per month as far as the electirc bill goes.
  • by sglane81 ( 230749 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:29AM (#8767075) Homepage
    There are technical solutions like PGP for those who are concerned about their emails being read.

    For those people who are concerned about google monitoring thier searching habits, why not use a proxy server?

    For those people concerned about privacy issues: If you don't understand the medium enough to protect yourself, don't trust it. The best solution for protecting yourself online is understanding the battlefield. Knowledge is power, therefore you should arm yourself. It is as simple as that.
  • by windside ( 112784 ) <pmjboyle@nOSpaM.gmail.com> on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:32AM (#8767084)

    I don't see why the privacy zealots are all up in arms about this. Don't they have something better to do like bitch about the Patriot Act? Seriously!

    Google has been very up-front about what they will or will not be willing to do with the cookie "trifecta" (Google-Orkut-Gmail, as mentioned in the Register article) that they are gunning for. Not only is it spelled out quite clearly in the Gmail Privacy Statment, the co-founder is going on recrod saying "Hey, that's not such a bad idea."

    What's my point? If you're neurotic about your privacy and you're apprehensive about giving someone the ability to cross-reference your search info with your personal info and your mail info, turn off cookies and don't use Gmail.

    Let's all repeat this slowly, just to let it sink in: If you don't want to use Gmail, you don't have to use Gmail.

    If Google goes ahead with Gmail and includes 1E9 bytes of storage per user account, as it plans to, there's obviously going to have to be some sort of cost involved to offset their decision to provide an extremely valuable service. Much like Hotmails users are required to pawn their eternal soul to the Prince of Darkness, Gmail users are going to have to bite the bullet and accept that their privacy may not be so private anymore. Why is this such a big problem?

    [END rant]

  • by tangent3 ( 449222 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:34AM (#8767090)
    Does anyone see the potential for Gmail to be used as a huge shared spam database. Include a simple "classify email as spam" on the webmail interface, add the spam to a shared Bayesian filter dictionary. Allow mail clients to compare incoming mail with Gmail's database. At the least, this could eliminate the need for new mail users to having to train their filters for a couple of weeks before it starts becoming effective.
  • by XNormal ( 8617 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:35AM (#8767095) Homepage
    Most of the 1G storage quota will be taken by large attachments of movies and other stuff that gets forwarded around. Google are figuring out that if they merge identical copies the actual average storage consumption per user is going to be far less than 100mb.
  • SpyMac (Score:4, Informative)

    by OneBarG ( 640139 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:44AM (#8767130)
    Anyone notice that SpyMac [spymac.com] is already offering a free 1GB E-mail account? No keyword based ads (not that I have a problem with Google's use of them). It even gives pop3 access, which last I read, gmail won't (at first).
  • Screenshots! (Score:5, Informative)

    by rffmna ( 734875 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:52AM (#8767158) Homepage
    Dear hungry world, here are some Gmail screenshots...


  • Perfect sense (Score:3, Interesting)

    by simong ( 32944 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @04:53AM (#8767162) Homepage
    The reason for Gmail is the same for Google's acquisition of Blogger: they want to know what you're thinking, and they will sell it to whoever wants it. In return you, Joe Consumer, get the whole Google banana, plus mail, plus Blogger, for free. Plenty of people have voiced their concerns over Google's attitude to 'privacy' but Google is a business, and oddly enough, it has to make money, and it makes that money from the data that searches, blogs and now mail generate. TANSTAAFL [google.com] very much applies.

    Anyone who uses Gmail (or Hotmail, or Yahoo, or *any* webmail) for confidential material is fooling themselves about its confidentiality, but as a mail service for shuffling data around it will be very useful, but Gmail is going to have cover itself and protect itself from being the biggest mp3, warez and pr0n distributor in the world.

    • Re:Perfect sense (Score:5, Interesting)

      by vrai ( 521708 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @05:52AM (#8767337)
      What's needed is a browser extension (Enigmail style) that can silently handle PGP {de,en}cryption in text fields.

      For encryption it could pick up the 'to' address from the relevant field and use it to encrypt the main text box. For decryption it could pickup the 'from' address and the encrypted text from the HTML, then replace the encrypted message with the clear text.

      A USB key-drive with a copy of Firebird (+ extension), GnuPG and your keys would allow you to access your mail from pretty much any computer. Though it would be relient on Google not changing their page format too often.

  • by gunga ( 227260 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @05:01AM (#8767188)
    Wow! Google always get a free pass on Slashdot, it seems.

    "Privacy isn't a concern because, after all, *you* choose to give it up by using the service"? I think it's wrong. I think the facts that Gmail reads your incoming mail to choose which text ads it will show you is a very bad precedent. Isn't it the first time someone offers a communication service and they tell you that they will know the content of every message you get?

    The fascination with the power of technology blinds the Google team it seems (like it blinds people on Slashdot), I wonder what Norvig thinks of this issue...
  • by Beautyon ( 214567 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @05:17AM (#8767245) Homepage
    Is the system to instantly correlate the billion biometric files that might be created if everyone falls for biometric passports.

    If every European, Japanese, American, basically everyone with a passport [] is made to deliver up their fingerprints, photographs and maybe iris scans, there will need to be a system to cross check all of this "At the speed of Google", every time a passport holder crosses a border anywhere in the world. Google will provide this service to governments, over an SSL secured web interface.

    Google has the experience, they have the hardware in place, and they are going to make a fortune out of this. If they do it, it will be the greatest switch from good to pure evil in the history of software.

    I use the word "might" above because this Biometric Net may not be created if everyone simply refuses to be fingerprinted and photographed. Of all the countries in line for this, the Americans will probably shout the loudest. Fingerprinting is for criminals; to be forced to get fingerprinted and biometrically photographed to get a passport, the data of which will be stored by other governments and anyone with an RFID reader is simply too much to swallow for any freedom loving person.
  • by NigelJohnstone ( 242811 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @05:18AM (#8767246)
    There's papers already written about Google's existing file system. It is 'append only', they build up large 40GB+ chunk files on Linux servers and flag stuff within the file as deleted, without actucally deleting it.

    So they probably only compact a file when it becomes mostly deleted entries.

    They're probably using the same system for GMail, so even if you delete stuff, its not really deleted until the file store its on it compacted.

    Hence the terms of service.

  • Prohibited Actions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 05, 2004 @06:09AM (#8767393)
    Have any of you read these Prohibited Actions [google.com]?

    A few good ones:

    Transmit content that may be harmful to minors

    Illegally transmit another's intellectual property or other proprietary information without such owner's or licensor's permission

    Promote or encourage illegal activity

    Who decides what's harmful to minors? Google? will they ban my account for sending my friends offensive images/jokes?
    If i email an mp3 will they use their compute power to check if I own the copyright? Could the RIAA force them to report me?
    Since they're scanning the mail anyway, would they have to report users if words like 'civil disobidience' are in their messages? Could the government give them watch words?

  • by shic ( 309152 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @06:12AM (#8767411)
    I hope that GMail is real - because it would solve a significant problem for me - though I'd really need GMail to support IMAP4 for my purposes...

    I've three types of email I need to manage:

    1) Secret, private emails - always with known contacts - encrypted.
    2) Confidential email - again, known contacts only - stored only on my intranet - not sensitive - doesn't need encryption.
    3) Public contact - frequently new or unknown contacts. Enquiries; replies from Usenet/mailing lists etc.

    Types 1 and 2 are low volume and can be easily managed with current infrastructure. Tailored email addresses and white lists can virtually eliminate spam. Type 3, however, is a much bigger problem... because I can not easily control who contacts me. I think Gmail offers the hope of a solution here. For my purposes (at least) - given that Gmail would be used for initial contact only - I couldn't care less about the less than private nature of these communications. I don't really care if Google, law enforcement or even the government gets to see these messages - their content would be considered public. Provided that Gmail can be integrated into my current email system - such a service would offer an interesting and convenient alternative for "Type-3" email.

  • Andrew Orlowski (Score:5, Informative)

    by MythMoth ( 73648 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @06:37AM (#8767488) Homepage
    This guy pops up on The Register from time to time, and comes across as less balanced than average even by their standards.

    Particularly he has a bee in his bonnet about Google. I've never found his shrill arguments very convincing.

    I'm sure Google will go bad one day (perhaps when they've gone public, or when the founders leave), but for now they're relying on quality rather than marketing, which gets the thumbs up from me.

    I'd trust them at least as much as Hotmail if I wanted such an account.

  • by Debian Troll's Best ( 678194 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @06:40AM (#8767499) Journal
    The Gmail project sounds like a fascinating experiment in massively distrubuted computing, and if anyone can pull it off, Google can. Obviously, a lot of custom software will need to be developed by Google's engineers to make a 100,000 node cluster fly. As mentioned in the article, distributed filesystem, RPC and network tracking software will be essential, and high priority projects. But what about the 'boring' nuts'n'bolts of keeping those cluster nodes in good shape? What about day to day administation tasks like adding new users, or checking disk usage? And what about keeping packages up to date?

    When you stop to think about it, package management could be a key factor in the smooth running of the Google Gmail cluster. What software would be used to make sure each one of those 100,000 mail-handling nodes was running the latest, most secure version of sendmail, qmail or postfix? We know Google uses Linux extensively. It is fairly safe to assume that they are using apt-get to sling packages. But what do the Slashdot community think about apt-get's long term suitability for these types of projects? Can the open-source, Free Software package management poster child scale to meet the 100K-node challenge? I look forward to hearing the community's response!

  • Reality check (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Maljin Jolt ( 746064 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @07:08AM (#8767573) Journal
    Gmail service is natural step in Google's provision, because Google actually *is* the Echelon. A capability of matching search activities and personalities is a missing feature for its controllers, for sure.

    You can check Google's behavior difference in handling "normal" and "dangerous" 5-word queries by comparing amount of processing time. It differs by order of magnitude 10 or more. Google is definitely communicating somewhere *before* issuing a reply.

    Varied results are given with traceroute communications to Google, and it would be an interesting community project to create a network map of near-to-Google topology. An example of device of interest is, just before Google machinery, as seen from Europe. It is supposedly part of Google network, but it's trip time is not adequate to be located in California. What this box is? And who does it serve?
  • by the_greywolf ( 311406 ) * on Monday April 05, 2004 @07:37AM (#8767673) Homepage


    i personally don't think the question here is the what-ifs and whos and whats that Gmail might mean. i think the core issue here is whether we are willing to entrust Google with that information.

    Hotmail, Netscape Mail, @ddress, et. al., all provide a service similar to Gmail. the only real difference i can see (looking specifically at the privacy policies) is that Gmail is more open about their policies and is more willing to state openly that there is redundancy in their storage system. i'm sure Hotmail, et. al., have redundant storage for their email services, and that there are concerns similar to if not identical to the concerns addressed by the Gmail privacy policy.

    i commend Google for being open about this, and because they specifically address it, i'm fully willing to open a Gmail account and use it for my personal email. hell, i'd use it for business email without a single worry.

    why? i trust Google. they are opening up and telling me what they do with my emails and what happens to them. that's important to me. that's why i'm willing to trust them.

    i, for one, welcome our new email overlords.

  • by Deathlizard ( 115856 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @08:28AM (#8767907) Homepage Journal
    I dont know about you, but I can find a lot more uses for a GB of space other than E-mail. Google is going to find out about a year after this thing's official release that 60-90% of the mail stored on Gmail will be Viruses/Spam.

    What I would like to see instead of this thing would be something along the lines of online storage like XDrive but free. That way I can store files from anywhere in the world, using just a web browser to access them.
  • by Eric_Cartman_South_P ( 594330 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @10:35AM (#8768953)
    I plan to replace Hotmail with Gmail. And I can't wait to see what adverts I get when Gmail parses my e-mail messages. I wonder what it is going to make of ENCRYPTED TEXT.

    It is intereting to see a group of people that are always so quick to talk about security, and how leet they are, then go nuts over google storing e-mail. USE GPG. Encrypt your private e-mails and no body will read them.

    If Gmail promised to do a 7x DOD wipe of you e-mails when you close your account, plus purge every old backup tape they have of your e-mails, within 10 minutes of your account closing, you should STILL encrypt private e-mail.

    So much for talking about it and not doing it! Anyone who uses encryption doesn't care about google's privacy policy, as things are already as private as they get.

  • by MajroMax ( 112652 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @10:43AM (#8769024)
    'The contents of your Gmail account also are stored and maintained on Google servers in order to provide the service. 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.'

    Has it occured to anyone that keeping residual copies of e-mails, possibly even for a time after the account is deleted, is necessary, even required, to back up the data? Google's privacy policy is unique in that it tells you what they do with your information, rather than (only) what they'll let other people do with your information.

    The other large privacy concern here, that of ad-delivery, requires Google to scan e-mails for keywords. Yep. Big woop. They do that every time you search, you know -- and in the e-mails, their privacy policy specifically says that no humans will read it without specific permission to solve e.g. technical problems.

    Tin foil hats can go back in the closet, boys.

  • by Andy_R ( 114137 ) on Monday April 05, 2004 @11:10AM (#8769318) Homepage Journal
    I'm signing up for this as soon as I can - not because I want it or need it at the moment, but because if I'm going to use it at some point in the future, I'd rather be myname@gmail.com rather than myname3478998634@gmail.com

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.