Digital Slob

Curt Brandao

Sunday, April 11, 2004

E-mail ads can read
between the lines

In a few months, Google will start GMail, a free e-mail service featuring a gigabyte of online storage, a search function and grouped replies.

Hotmail may have to change its name to Tepidmail. Yahoo to Ya-awn.

But there's a catch. Google's computer brain will insert "contextual ads" alongside each incoming message, marketed to whatever an e-mail says.

That's right -- it'll read your mail. This has all the privacy Paul Reveres in full gallop.

GMail is the "precursor to a police state," say privacy-forum advocates like "Anonymous4ever" (also known in some circles as Trey Cliven of 8846 Queensland Rd, Dallas, TX, 75233, SSN 427-48-9718, Tel. 214-788-6202 -- or so I'm told).

Regardless, the announcement was a crushing blow to a friend of mine trying to launch an almost identical service. But while GMail's ads fit a message's context, his fit the subtext, and slipped ads right inside sentences.

I was his secret beta tester, and since he's now scrapped it all, I thought I'd share one of my test e-mails below (names have been changed to protect myself in dark alleys). It offers a disturbing peek at what may be on the other side of GMail:

Hey Phil, thanks for the e-mail. Sorry it took me a while to reply -- I've been very, very busy (download computer solitaire @

Sorry about your office's looming layoffs. I read your attached performance evaluation, but I wouldn't hazard a guess as to how it might affect your chances (You're Fired! "The Apprentice," Thursdays at 9/8 Central on NBC).

The fact that William hijacked that big account you worked on for months, taking all the credit and commission -- that's gotta hurt. But whistle blowing now probably won't help. However, if I were you, just to get closure, I'd take him aside soon and deal with the situation directly ("Kill Bill Vol. 2" opens April 16).

But don't let stress get to you. Call your sponsor before regressing into old addictions -- no matter what that inner demon tells you, answers don't lie at the bottom of a bottle (Obey Your Thirst -- And don't think you can change your luck by cracking your nest egg over games of chance (Blackjack, Slots, Keno and a $777 free bonus!!! @

You don't want to go back to the days when you were so tapped out, getting bus fare home meant selling a quart of blood (plasma TVs with up to $400 instant savings @

Stay focused. Your daughters are almost grown, but still need your help molding and shaping their future (find a board-certified plastic surgeon @ And, as I've always said, your wife proves you've got a special eye for the ladies (LensCrafters -- save $75 on our strongest prescriptions).

Sure, every marriage has rough spots. So she's a tad controlling, interrupting you in the bathroom -- at the Sizzler. That's still no reason to stray (view photos of singles in your area NOW @

As for floating you a loan, let me think about it. As a rule, friends and money don't mix, even though you say you'll pay me back this time ("Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them," by Al Franken on sale @

But hey, with a resume like yours, I'm sure you'll get another job at your skill level in no time (earn big money stuffing and mailing envelopes @

Anyway, keep in touch. My inbox always has room for you (block e-mail from specific senders with EmailProtect @ -- Curt

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Curt Brandao is the Star-Bulletin's production editor. Reach him at:


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