Yahoo has had to provide access to Chinese authorities to the details of an email account of a journalist accused of being a dissident. The journalist was then convicted and sent to jail for 10 years. The Chinese government exercises heavy control over the internet, with filters that block some domains from the entire Chinese mainland. Blogspot is not available in China.

This is a disturbing story, but it demonstrates the vulnerability of users online. We are all using all sort of free services, chances are you have one account with either G-Mail, Hotmail or Yahoo. Millions use Flickr and Blogspot. Companies are gathering a significant amount of information about us. Most of the times all that will happen is that you will be the subject of some direct marketing, but what exactly will happen when there is something really important at stake? The company will give your information as fast as possible, you are not a paying customer after all. There’s nothing wrong with that, businesses have to diminish their liabilities.

Those concerned about the vast amount of information out there may have a point.



kc · September 12, 2005 at 6:25 am

Non-paying users they may be, but that shouldn't mean companies won't be protective of their data. A paid service will definitely protect data, as the users pays directly for the email service, privacy included. However, free services are invariably funded by targeted adverts, the selling of which relies upon the mass use of the services in question. If you provide a better service your userbase will increase and so too your advertising revenue. Indeed, I suspect that the revenue from advertising will surpass that generated by paying customers. At a time when Microsoft had slashed the capacity of free accounts to little more than a few megabytes, Google entered the market offering a gigabyte for free. Google clearly believes that it can make more money from targeted advertising than from subscriptions.If privacy is an important factor to users, then free mail services will provide it to attract more users. Even so, China may be a special case, as many of the American companies seem excessively wary of losing access to the Chinese market by opposing its censorship laws. The most worrying factor is that the collaboration is born out of and will continue from the competition between Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, each facing the prisoner's dilemma. It's a little ironic that opening itself to these companies, and so opening the internet, may allow China to exercise even more control over its citizens.


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