Tuesday, 13 April 2004
People of Fremont, you might want to consider your voting choices a little more carefully. Liz Figueroa (your senator) has decided that Google’s GMail is “like having a massive billboard in the middle of your home,” and therefore wants to outlaw it.
Liz, try to think before you open your mouth.
Billboards create an eyesore; if you’re driving down a highway (a public good), you have no choice but to be confronted with a billboard beside it. They can be viewed as billboard companies taking advantage of an externality; they get a benefit (money from advertisers) without paying the full social cost (annoyed people, decreased property values). Therefore, they need to be regulated.
GMail is a commercial service; it doesn’t affect anyone who doesn’t choose to use it. If you don’t like Google’s practices (which they disclose), don’t use it. Simple. If people don’t like GMail’s terms, they’ll go elsewhere, and Google will have to figure out another way to be profitable (they seem to be pretty creative, so I wouldn’t be too worried for them).
Using the law to regulate this is silly when the market does such a good job; more to the point, it discourages creative companies like Google from trying new things.
I have a feeling this has more to do with Liz needing to grandstand and get her name in the papers than it does with privacy. Unfortunately, it makes it easier to tar privacy advocates who hold more well-reasoned positions with the same brush.
P.S. I’ve got a GMail account, and the ads don’t bother me at all. What does bother me is that it doesn’t work with Safari yet. That should be illegal. Seriously.