Google Has Most of My Email Because It Has All of Yours

Benjamin Mako Hill:

For almost 15 years, I have run my own email server which I use for all of my non-work correspondence. I do so to keep autonomy, control, and privacy over my email and so that no big company has copies of all of my personal email. [...]

Despite the fact that I spend hundreds of dollars a year and hours of work to host my own email server, Google has about half of my personal email! Last year, Google delivered 57% of the emails in my inbox that I replied to. They have delivered more than a third of all the email I've replied to every year since 2006 and more than half since 2010. On the upside, there is some indication that the proportion is going down. So far this year, only 51% of the emails I've replied to arrived from Google. [...]

I've broken down the proportions of emails I received that come from Google in the graph below for all email (top) and for emails I have replied to (bottom). In the graphs, the size of the dots represents the total number of emails counted to make that proportion.

The numbers are higher than I imagined and reflect somewhat depressing news. They show how it's complicated to think about privacy and autonomy for communication between parties. I'm not sure what to do except encourage others to consider, in the wake of the Snowden revelations and everything else, whether you really want Google to have all your email. And half of mine.

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8 Responses:

  1. HealingTek says:

    It's not convenient, but the only way to assure privacy is to encrypt.

    • tfb says:

      Unfortunately encryption does not hide metadata such as who you talk to, and an awful lot can be had from that. Additionally: does gmail even support encryption?

      • jwz says:

        Gmail supports IMAP, so: yes but not through the web interface.

        • Lascaille says:

          TLS of course encrypts the connection - I would imagine that within the google mail system there are many other connections within/between storage devices and server sub-processes, several of which may be located in different physical locations. If you are concerned about google having your email because 'others' have a direct link into the google system, what is achieved by link encryption?

  2. in the wake of the Snowden revelations and everything else, whether you really want Google to have all your email.

    At this point, it hardly seems like the endpoints of the SMTP conversation even matter, when the NSA is pretty clearly duping every bit that goes over the wire of the intervening ISPs.

    (Disclaimer/disclosure: used to work for Google. Still host my mail there.)

  3. Jon says:

    ... and 90% of my address book ...

    It unnerves me that people put my personal address, phone numbers, email adresses, birthday, nick names and whatever into that Google storage.

  4. There is a little irony in the G+ button. I therefore clicked on it.

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