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No Such Thing as Free

Google pours millions into development of their email service called Gmail. Its operating costs are insanely high. Yet, the service is offered free of charge to billions of users.

Gmail is not even a Freemium service. It does not have a paid tier with which it compensates the free tier. Even if it did, we have learned through our own experience here at Migadu that free email services do not work without a catch.

We offered free email services between 2015 and 2020 to more than 200.000 email accounts. The free tier was responsible for more than 80% of our costs, both in infrastructure as well in support. This has led to sunsetting the free tier in October 2020.

On the other hand, Gmail offers its free service to billions of users worldwide. Where is the catch?

The financial benefit Google rip out of email data is a multitude higher than the total cost of Gmail ownership.

Considering the scale of the operation, that is a very scary statement.

Enter the Kraken.

Google is an ad-tech company and their core offering is personalized ads. Google’s ad-serving products are integrated in almost 100% of ad-supported sites around the web. Almost certainly, all advertising online is linked in one way or another to Google. It is the biggest Internet monopoly that still goes under the radar of legislators.

Kraken from Vingt mille lieues sous les mers

Needless to say, every ad you see is a tracker that builds profiles on you, not only with Google, but with almost all ad providers on the planet. On every page you visit that has ads, the first step in ad serving is to have ad providers sync tracking knowledge they have on you. It is called cookie synching.

It is not the ad serving that slows down web pages, it is the tracking. It always was.

As if that were not enough, Google Analytics tracks us further around the web by being integrated in sites and asking web-masters to provide higher quality information on their users through deeper integrations.

Finally, where Google web services could not reach, Google’s Chrome browser finally could. On mobile devices, Google’s Android took care of holistic tracking.

Email, The Final Frontier

There was a final frontier to which Google had no access. Our personal communication was still ours.

“The Googol” had to do something about it. Having access to the communication could keep the profiles updated even without any web interaction on behalf of users. Our correspondents would update our profiles for us, even while we are not using the web. Brilliant idea, so Gmail was born.

Gmail uses email activity and email content to enrich ad-profiles it has on all of us, meaning all communication is scanned and fed into a central database. And to make it even easier for you to feed even more outside data, Gmail conveniently offers POP3 fetching from other accounts.

Even if you do not own a @gmail address but correspond with one, Google enriches profiles of both correspondents. That means a Gmail account holds data not only on the account holder but the whole circle of correspondents.

It Is Not Yours

You never “own” a address, it is only given to you for use. You cannot take your @gmail email address and move it to e.g. Yahoo. Nowadays, email is more important than phone numbers, yet there is no regulation in sight on moving addresses as one can move telephone numbers between telephone providers.

Your @gmail address can be withdrawn at any time, along with all your data. According to their Terms of Service, Google has the rights to handle your data in any matter suitable, pass to third parties as well delete.

Ask yourself, if Google deleted your address or your data, or terminated your account, what would you be able to do about it? Here it is - absolutely nothing. It was not yours in first place.

Only when you pay for a service do you assert certain rights.

Imminent Danger

We believe, any entity having access to so much personal information is a great risk to world peace, freedom and democracy.

Google used to be a loved brand with their now retired “Do no evil” motto. As with any corporation, over time shareholder interests outweigh those of the founders and general population.

This is not to say you should use Migadu. There are many independent providers around. Just do not use any entity that makes its living off of users’ privacy.