Issue 39

Google wants to ruin email

Who doesn't love email? Likely a lot of you, but  probably because of what you receive through it (or how you manage your  inbox) rather than the protocol itself. Email - or rather, the simple  mail transfer protocol (SMTP) - is good at what it does. It lets anyone,  anywhere, to send and receive messages regardless of what device or  email application they happen to use. In that sense email is federated,  distributed and decentralised in that it allows multiple small networks  to talk to one another without giving up control.

Google is  responsible for a large portion of email traffic through its aptly-named  email service, Gmail. It has more than a billion users and as this  graphic from Statista indicates, is neck and neck with Apple's default mail application in terms of usage:

But  Google wants to capture more than mere market share; it wants to  combine static with dynamic. Essentially, the "do no evil" company wants  to take SMTP and modernise it using its own protocol, Accelerated  Mobile Pages (AMP), which essentially allows applications/websites to run inside emails. If you use Gmail, you're already using AMP.

The big question is: why? Email is mature, simple and it just works.  If you wanted something more than a reliable, static email message to  solve your organisation's communication needs, then use something like  Slack (although you shouldn't).

The answer is that it makes sense for Google. Its chat/email-alternative, "Hangouts",  officially failed earlier this year. So it wants to further monetise  email, a medium where it already has more than a quarter of the world's  users. It has struggled on that front so far because given the  federated, decentralised and distributed nature of email, it can only  monetise it by using the data it collects from Gmail users (plus their  correspondents) and through adverts shown in desktop users' inboxes. But  it can't do anything with the email itself.

That's where AMP  shakes things up. With AMP, Google can do oh so much more with a boring  email. By turning email into an "interactive, dynamic" medium, it can  run advertising anywhere it wants, auto-play videos, and track every  single way you interact with any part of the email, all directly from  your and your correspondents' inbox (and via any other service foolish  enough to sign up to AMP). It's even able to display dynamic website  content, after it strips it of competitors' branding, trackers and  advertising, of course.

Just like that, Google controls even more of what we can see and do on the internet. First it killed off its end-to-end encryption project which would have done the opposite of  AMP, i.e. help make email private and secure, and now it wants to ruin  email altogether.

But you don't have to be a pawn in Google's  latest evil scheme. I ditched Gmail several years ago and more people  should do the same (see my recommendations below). An internet where  everything is filtered through Google is one in which I do not want to  take part, and you shouldn't either.

Enjoy the rest of this week's issue. Cheers,

— Justin


The bits

Some alternatives to Gmail

It  would be lazy of me not to suggest a few alternatives to Gmail given  that I just sledged it above. Any of the mainstream providers -  Microsoft's Office 365, Apple Mail - are better than Gmail, but only  slightly. If you want one that actually respects your data, consider the  below list.

Note that not  all have free options but if you don't want to be the product you should  really pay for it, and the best time to do that is on Black Friday or  Christmas, which is when most will run their annual promotions. Tip: use  your own domain name so that you can move providers when/if required.

Learn more:

  • Mailbox - Native encryption, German provider »
  • Mailfence - Native encryption, Belgium provider »
  • ProtonMail - Android/iPhone app, native encryption, Swiss provider »
  • Runbox - Norwegian provider »
  • Startmail - Native encryption, Dutch provider »
  • Tutanota - Android/iPhone app, native encryption, German provider »

What do artificial intelligence and the Mississippi Company have in common

They  all have/had legitimate promise and real world application but were  over-hyped to the point that their downfall was inevitable. It's about  time that the industry got together to release "a set of benchmarks for  evaluating the performance of artificial-intelligence tools, aiming to  help businesses navigate the fast-growing field".

From the other article, which is about the McDonald's $300 million acquisition of Dynamic Yield, an AI company, comes this gem:

"Dynamic  Yield is part of a generation of companies whose core technology, while  extremely useful, is powered by artificial intelligence that is roughly  as good as a 24-year-old analyst at Goldman Sachs with a big dataset  and a few lines of Adderall. For the last few years, startups have  shamelessly re-branded rudimentary machine-learning algorithms as the  dawn of the singularity, aided by investors and analysts who have a  vested interest in building up the hype."

Learn more:

Like real wars, trade wars are expensive

Trump  can boast about tariff revenue all he wants but the real costs of the  trade war are dispersed amongst American companies and ultimately,  consumers. But at least with tariffs, goods still flow. The same cannot  be said for bans, such as the restrictions imposed on Huawei. The  powerful tech lobby no doubt made that very clear and so over the  weekend the administration decided to, in Huawei's words, do a "U-turn" on the ban against the Chinese tech giant. Good.

Learn more:

Facebook is already having problems with Libra

Well that didn't take long:

"...no  money has changed hands so far. A number of partners said they would  decide whether to join the association and make the payment after there  is more clarity on how Libra will work, the executives from the seven  companies said."

Learn more:


Other bits of interest


Image of the week

Another  survey so take it with the appropriate amount of scepticism but in what  should surprise no one, it seems voice has been over-hyped. The results  showed "nearly half (46%) of respondents never use virtual assistants,  emphasis on “never.” Another group (19%) use virtual assistants “rarely”  (less than monthly). These are effectively non-users. Together these  two groups represent 65% of the audience, while 29% (daily and weekly)  is the active user base."

You  would have to pay me a significant sum to install an Amazon Alexa /  Google Home device in my house (it's already relatively easy to get them  for free). Looks like I'm not alone.


This week's data breaches

For  all the China hate, the United States gives back as good as it gets in  terms of hacking other countries (probably better). However, it would  get far more value if it spent those resources on ensuring its own  network was secure.

I tend to  think of government's approach to cyber security akin to its approach  to infrastructure: lots of expensive bridges to nowhere [hacking foreign  countries] while simultaneously skimping on the unglamorous maintenance  of prior projects [domestic cyber security].

The breaches:

That's all for now. If you enjoyed this issue, feel free to share it via email


Issue 39: Google wants to ruin email was compiled by Justin Pyvis and delivered on 02 July 2019. Feel free to send feedback, suggestions for future issues, ideas, insults, or pretty much anything that crosses your mind to their Riot.im account.