Sunday, September 26, 2004

Privacy Issues: AIM, Gmail

Well, in my weird adventures around the blog-o-sphere and the net, I've learned a couple of new things that I figured would be important to share. In this little post, I'll cover AOL Instant Messenger's hidden spyware and the hidden truth behind Gmail©. Come on in and let's talk for awhile.

AOL Instant Messenger©
First of all, I know many of you, like myself, use AOL Instant Messenger. Occasionally, AIM well send a user notices of newer versions, and persistently ask you to upgrade your program. Generally, when updating, new features are added, security is patched a little bit, and maybe a design change or two comes with said download.

Be advised, however, that the most recent upgrade (a few weeks ago, I believe) is not exactly what you think.

Encased in this download is a "product" called Viewpoint Media Player. The intention is to bring more dynamic advertising content to AIM users and, I'm sure, to bolster revenues for what otherwise is a free product. The shady aspect in this product is two fold:

1) It collects information about the user.

2) There is NO mention of it in the End User License Agreement.

Basically, this program is easily labeled: SPYWARE.

No opt in or opt out options, no notification, but here's a data collecting program with the cloak of content delivery. Things like this piss me off, and it makes me wonder where AOL© is truly headed.

Removal instructions and more information can be found here.

Gmail©

1 gig of storage space is hard to turn down. Imagine, you could send an entire wedding album of pictures, and still now run out of space. You could save hundreds of thousands of emails, and always have access to them without having to hold to some pathetic 10 megabyte limit. How great of Google to offer such a wonderful thing.

Or is it?

Those hundreds of thousands of emails are not just held by you, but by Google's Gmail as well. And the whole idea of revenue from Gmail comes from data mining your emails for relevant content advertising. But there's some creepy stuff that isn't included in the privacy policy that would allow government officials access that is limited only by the definition of easy. Maybe I enjoy having a little extra privacy for almost no reason (I'm a good boy), but the idea that Google may be holding hands with Big Brother and slipping us some Brave New World soma is a bit unnerving.

For further explanation and elaboration, go here for the simple explanation and go here for a more technical and involved explanation.


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