Google is getting ready to migrate all Gmail users to Inbox, which should be something of a concern for those worried about privacy, but no one seems to be noticing. The current efforts seem to be directed at users of the Gmail mobile app, but it’s my guess that desktop users of Gmail will be getting be getting the same treatment soon.
Except for those using a free version of Android such as Replicant, and who install apps from free and open software sources such as F-Droid or Fossdroid, the protection of privacy on mobile devices, by design, is hopeless. Users have come to accept that most apps from Google’s store demand a whole slew of privileges whether they need them or not, and even when not being used, many apps happily go about the business of collecting and reporting everything they’re permitted to find out about us.
Even on traditional computers where we can have more control over our data, perhaps nowhere do we give up our privacy rights more often and as freely as with the big freemium online email services such as Gmail. This is no surprise, since the big players in the online email game, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, are all in the advertising business, where data mining leads to better targeting which results in more clicks. As any cellphone user can attest: it only gets worse on mobile. Again, not surprising since targeting and selling ads is the whole purpose of Android.
Which brings us back to Inbox, Google’s new gee-whiz Gmail replacement that’s now coming out of beta.
As an app on a mobile device, Inbox does offer an improved user experience with added features, most notably the “Smart Reply” function which reads emails and crafts replies. On a desktop accessing the service through a browser, however, Inbox doesn’t appear, at least not at first glance, to be a Gmail replacement as much as merely a new skin offering some, but not all, of the new capabilities found in the mobile app. (Desktop users who already have a Gmail account can take a test drive of Inbox, simply by going to the Inbox website while logged-in to their Google account. Be warned, however, that afterwards Google will nag you to use Inbox instead whenever you login to your Gmail account.)
On Saturday, Gordon Kelly at Forbes reported that Google has begun the process of migrating users to Inbox, and that Gmail users — presumably just those using the mobile app, although the article, and others, aren’t clear on this — are beginning to be presented with a notice upon logging in to their accounts that they are being “redirected” to the new service.
Google has been offering some foreshadowing that this move was in the works for at least a couple of months. Mainstream tech websites, often a source of sponsored content, have been offering visions of the wonderful brave new world of email we would discover when the service was ready for prime time. Most of the hoopla has been focused on Smart Reply, with writers like Endgaget’s Mat Smith telling us, “I Let Google’s Autoreply Feature Answer My Emails for a Week.” According to the reports, white bread never tasted this good.
As useful as Inbox might be for mobile users, it appears to come with a price that so far I haven’t seen thoroughly addressed, even though Forbes’ Kelly hinted at it when he wrote, “Inbox’s deeper trawling of user data allows it to offer a much wider range of intelligent automated features….”
This should definitely raise a red flag among privacy advocates.
Even though this “deeper trawling” doesn’t affect the desktop as much as it does mobile, if only because metrics such as GPS determined location aren’t available, it’s a certainty that Google has figured out new and improved ways to mine data even from the old reliable desktop. But even if confined to mobile devices alone, Google will be collecting massive amounts of new, previously uncollected data and sharing some of what it collects with its advertising clients. Undoubtedly, Google will also continue to sing the same old song: Don’t worry, we’re not connecting your name to any data we collect or anything.
Mobile users should be used to it, however. With out-of-the-box mobile, there is no such thing as privacy. It’s a rigged game.
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