An article by Simon Garfinkel on the Technology Review web site highlights some of the privacy risks that GMail and similar web-based services inherently impose on users.
Google’s Gmail raises important questions about the security and privacy of our personal information — questions that should matter not just to users of the free Web-based e-mail system but to everyone who exchanges e-mail with Gmail users.
I’ve also raised similar concerns in a past column, The Americans Want Your Information.
Garfinkel focuses on the risks imposed by Google’s lack of data backup and secure deletion function in GMail, and its customized ad service. Plus, he makes the excellent point that, due to Google’s ad-driven revenue stream, users are not Google’s customers, they are the product.
My column focussed more on the fact that by using any web application that uses data storage service offered by a US-based company, one exposes oneself to US legislation, in particular the paranoid US Patriot Act. Under this act, the US government can seize data without even a court order and the service provider must never inform the user of such seizure. This applies to internationally-based subsidiaries of American companies equally.
Personally, I make sure that all of my email and sensitive data storage remains on computers owned and operated by a fully Canadian-owned company, such as webnames.ca. This ensures that I am subject to the laws only of the land in which I reside, not to those of any overly-paranoid foreign government.