Conspiracy theory – Google

Yesterday I was introduced to Google Documents, which reminded me of my thoughts about the introduction of Gmail. I’m usually not into conspiracy theories, but this one is just too good to be true.

Apparently Gmail was introduced in 2004, but I only became aware of it in 2005 and took an account. I must have been an early adapter, because according to Wikipedia it was only opened to the general public in 2007.

As soon as I noticed the almost unlimited storage space and Google’s claim you didn’t need to throw anything away ever, I thought: this is brilliant. The year 2005 is post 9/11 and one of the main problems the intelligence agencies had was finding the culprits of future attacks. Those were expected on a fairly large scale back then.

Digital communication nowadays has an extremely large volume. Terrorists communicating with each other fulfill the law that hiding a leaf of grass is best done in a lawn. So intelligence agencies need a way to sieve through -among others- an ocean of emails. Surely anyone can read your email, but why would they? How would they pick you from among the rest of the world population? And why?

Gmail creates the opportunity for one approach to solve this. Right after a terrorist attack, the only thing you need to have is an analysis of email traffic. There’s no need to read any emails or analyse their content. There’s also no need to know what you are looking for. Just knowing who sends an email to whom and when is enough. It’s the only thing you have to keep up with.

After an attack you know what to look for: any distinct increase (before) or decrease (after) in email traffic may indicate people who are involved. That limits your search options for emails you do want to read and here’s where Gmail jumps in: in a world where no email is ever thrown away, they’re still there! And even better: a whole history of emails is still available. Less data to capture before and less emails to read afterwards, it’s splendid.

Now you may want to object that terrorists must have thought of this and could simply delete their emails. I don’t know what Google’s storage space looks like physically, but if it’s anything like my hard drive and the way my computer deals with deleted files, I’m pretty sure a deleted email is still there.

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