Gmail Got Petraeus; You're Next, Mr. All-Caps Commenter Guy
Hey, All-Caps Guy. We need to have a talk. Really. I sometimes poke you with a sharp stick. You poke back. That's what I want. But sometimes when you poke, I wince. Not for me. For you.
You know, I hope, that every single thing you say online lives forever on servers. You know, I hope, that you never have any privacy whatsoever, not one drop, not one iota, in terms of who you are and what you say online. In terms of anything online.
Yeah, this is about David Petraeus. That whole thing has given me a bad case of the willies. I am experiencing huge cognitive dissonance over the fact that the head of the CIA got caught sending love notes by Gmail.
Gmail? The head of the CIA and his girlfriend sent love notes by Gmail? Why didn't they just get stoned and get caught naked in the hotel corridor by the National Enquirer, smearing each other with s'mores?
The first day I started using Gmail -- the first day! -- I sent an illicit message to an old friend, something I absolutely did not want my wife to find out about. It had to do with a very sordid and shameful business -- my interest in purchasing a certain kayak that my wife might wrongly and unfairly have considered redundant of certain kayaks already in my possession.
That afternoon, hours after I sent my private email to my friend, the rail along the right side of my Gmail page lit up with all kinds of ads for kayaks. Some of them were little videos, and if I moused over them they started talking out loud about kayaks! Out loud! I blushed. I gasped. I quickly put my hands over the screen to cover the ads from accidental view by others. OMG! They know! Gmail knows about the kayak I want to buy! They already blabbed it to the kayak companies.
It's on the news! BULLETIN! THIS JUST IN! Apparently Jim Schutze, not satisfied with the kayaks he already owns, intends to enter into a clandestine agreement to purchase yet another one and keep it a secret from his defenseless long-suffering spouse.
Does Gmail not know that I allow my long-suffering spouse to use my Gmail account for Ebay messages because it would take too long to set up a separate Ebay account, so she will see this? Of course they know! They laugh at my privacy, just like they laughed at the privacy of the head of the CIA.
I'm like Petraeus, though. If you make a mistake, own up to it and move on. I took the initiative. That night at dinner I told my wife I was being hounded by kayak companies for no good reason. She said nothing, not even a blink of the eye. I knew what that meant. She's way too smart. I had made a full confession.
Here is what impresses me. Petraeus, head of the damned CIA, and his girlfriend, who thinks she's a journalist, both thought they were pretty damned sneaky-secret because they used fake-name Gmail mailboxes. I just can't believe it. If they were trying to hide something, they put the paper bags over the wrong ends of their anatomies.
Gmail knows all. Gmail is God. Gmail laughs at our pathetic attempts to hide. I can guarantee you that within hours of Petraeus sending his first digital billet doux, the rail on his Gmail page was stacked with pulsating ads for Viagra, Rogaine and gold chains. So what does this have to do with you and me, Dear Readers? We're not sending each other naughty notes, right? Our issue is more in the area of hate-mail. But it's the same thing.
Unlike that lady who kicked off the whole Petraeus affair by going to the FBI over nasty email messages, I do not attempt to sleuth out the URLs of people who send me hate mail -- not ever, not never -- because if I even started, I would never even have time to apply my Rogaine.
It's not me you have to worry about. It's Gmail. It's whoever processes or even touches in any way your digital communications. Every single thing you tell me here is etched in stone forever with your name on it, your address, Social Security number and photo. It can and will pop out and bite you in the ass for the most trivial of reasons.
The lady in Tampa told her FBI buddy that this other lady was sending her mean emails. So what? If it weren't digital, this would have been the equivalent of telling the FBI, "That bitch is standing in the corner at parties giving me the bad eye." But it was digital, and so it has produced a mushroom cloud of disastrous consequence for all involved.
Look, I know I'm really only talking to a very small number of reader/commenters here. Most of what most of you have to say to me is fair play and often wonderfully smart, all the better for the pointed enmity it sometimes conveys. I am a person, after all, who asks for it.
But the N-word writers. The overt racists. The really over-the-top purveyors of misogynist and homophobic hate-talk. You, All-Caps Guy. You do understand, I hope, that all of that stuff is in the memory bank forever waiting to come back at you when you least want to see it again. Not our memory bank. We don't have one. THE memory bank. The big one. I believe fervently in free speech. I am not saying this to try to intimidate or ward off harsh criticism. I kind of like verbal harshness. It's often just the right pepper for the bland soup of daily life.
But it would be derelict not to remind you that you are not anonymous on the Internet, not here, not anywhere, not now, not then, not ever. Look: The guy was head of the CIA. He couldn't hide it. What do you think your chances are? This is just a word to the wise, that's all. And a word for you, as well, All-Capsie.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.
- Oak Lawn Protesters Pick Fight With Philip Kingston
Fri., Nov. 27, 2:00pm
Fri., Nov. 27, 5:30pm
Fri., Nov. 27, 7:30pm
Fri., Nov. 27, 8:00pm
- Just in Time for Thanksgiving Travel, Love Field Breaks Out New Parking System
- Giving Mike Rawlings Credit No Matter How Grudging ... and I Do Grudge