Choose One: Privacy, or the Internet.

Scary Story: I recently exchanged emails with a friend using my personal Google email account.

The subject of our email conversation was cycling, and after a few emails had gone back and forth I noticed a funny thing: The adverts embedded in my Gmail messages were for cycling related products and companies…


Scary Story, Part II: Last night I was browsing a blog for geeks named ‘Herself’s Webtools’. Herself’s blog is a popular destination that contains some sophisticated advertising ‘widgets’ from Amazon. com and other retailers. Here’s the scary part: As I poked around that blog, I noticed that the advertising widgets featured items just like products I had purchased on Amazon in the last year or so…

So it seems that Google is scanning my correspondence to deliver advertising that matches the subject of my emails, and Amazon marketing ‘bots’ are reading files on my computer to determine what products to pitch me when I visit certain web sites.

Back in 1999, when reporters asked SUN Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy to comment about privacy on the internet, McNealy famously replied: ‘You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.’

McNealy took a lot of heat for that remark, and I would like to disagree with it too, but now that Google and Amazon seem to know me better than my own mother, I have to wonder if he got it right.