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— 2 min read

Why would anyone pay for email?

What kind of evil Mastermind would ask people to pay for email?

When I tell people what I do for a living the reaction is predictable. A polite laugh. Something between a snigger and a snort. The raised eyebrow that says shurely zhere’s shumshink funny in dis cockletail.

I’m the technical lead at Topmail. We sell email. Laughable, isn’t it? That’s what everyone is really telling me. Email is free, buddy. What kind of a sap would pay for email? What kind of an evil mastermind would try to make people pay for it?

James Bond Battle Zone Lair
(Our broadband is surprisingly good)

When I get that look what I’d like to do is go on a ten minute rant, but in social situations, I just look wistful and say nothing. But this is the internet — where rants come home.

If there was just one thing I could get across to people about email it would be this: free email can never be private. That’s it. For the tl;dr crowd. You’re excused. Off you go.

Free email can never be private. Because of Ads. When I say this to the average Gmail user their reaction is: “what you mean those tiny little couple of lines above the email? On the promotions tab? That say ‘ad’ next to them very clearly? That you can hardly even see?”

Promotion Email Tab on Gmail

Yeah, those. Maybe you don’t click on them. Maybe you don’t even see them. But to Google you’re not You. You’re a statistic. And statistically 1% of You does click on them. And that’s enough. Here’s the second thing I’d like to get across: all ads are targeted ads.

All ads are targeted ads. Every ad, even if you don’t see it, has been tailored for delivery to your eyeball. What that means is that to serve you a tiny, discreet advertisement which you never look at and never click on, Gmail has read and analyzed the content of every email you have ever sent — from love letters to job applications. It’s important to be clear: I have nothing against ads — or not much. It’s just that ads don’t belong in your inbox, because that’s where your private information is.

That’s why, no matter what technical wizardry Google come up with, your Gmail emails will never be truly private. And that applies to every email service provider who serves ads.

So, increasingly a lot of sane people do pay for email. Which means I get to keep my job. And keep quiet at parties .