• United States

Too many ‘chicken luddles’ spoil the soup

May 03, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMessaging Apps

Let me add my voice to the small, but vocal, chorus who can’t understand why Google’s proposed Gmail has raised such a ruckus among those who least understand it.

Let me add my voice to the small, but vocal, chorus who can’t understand why Google’s proposed Gmail has raised such a ruckus among those who least understand it. Google, you might remember, proposes giving each subscriber to the free service 1000M bytes of storage in return for the ability to show targeted advertising along with the mail. The bottom line is, if you don’t want advertising, then don’t sign up for the service.

Yet even supposedly tech-savvy state legislators in the Silicon Valley appear to see Gmail as the biggest threat facing the human race. State Sen. Liz Figueroa, who represents the high-tech Interstate 880 corridor north of San Jose, has introduced legislation banning Gmail-like activity. “This bill would prohibit a provider of e-mail or instant messaging services, as defined, that serves California customers, from reviewing or evaluating the content of a customer’s e-mail or instant messages” says SB.1822. But to show it’s only targeted at potential advertising content, the bill includes this paragraph:

“This section does not prevent a provider of e-mail or instant messaging services to California customers from filtering unsolicited e-mail for removing spam or for managing computer viruses or other malicious programs.”

Always at work in politics, though, is the law of unintended consequences. Look at that paragraph again. It says it’s OK to apply a spam filter to “unsolicited e-mail” – but you don’t know that it is unsolicited until the spam filter scans it! Logically, then, Figueroa’s bill would ban all anti-spam and anti-virus software! And all because a few of the “chicken luddles” (a person or persons whose unwarranted warnings of impending disaster have the effect of thwarting the spread of good and necessary technology) think that civilization as we know it will fall if Google is allowed to present advertising to you that you might be interested in seeing.

It might be possible, after expending great amounts of time and money, to craft a law that would ban Gmail’s practices and only Gmail’s practices. Then, after years spent winding its way through the court system, the law might (or might not) go into effect. Considering the huge deficits that the U.S. and California are facing, though, simply allowing those who like the Gmail idea to opt-in and those who don’t to opt-out seems like a much saner idea.

Tip of the week

The law of unintended consequences is a natural law (like Murphy’s Law), not one passed by a legislature. Head here for a look at some of its effects.