Gmail and Drunken Nixon
I’ve been using Gmail for about a week and I really like the interface, which is substantially different from Hotmail and Yahoo — as it needs to be if Google is to induce people to give up their old email addresses. And apparently the free market agrees: Gmail accounts are selling for up to $150 on eBay (they should be free for everybody sometime this summer) and I received one email offering me $40.00 for an account.
As you may have heard, some privacy advocates are upset about Gmail because it uses the same technology that underlies Google Ads to scan emails and place context-sensitive ads next to emails. Personally, I don’t care. Yahoo and Hotmail also have robots scan the emails in an effort to filter out spam, so it’s really nothing new. And if I have to look at ads then I may as well look at ones related to the things I read and write about.
In any case, I hadn’t really noticed the ads, which are much less intrusive than Yahoo’s. Realizing that, I decided to take a conscious look. What did I find? An ad from the New Zealand Herald linking to a story on Richard Nixon:
Five days into the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, with the superpowers on the brink of confrontation, US President Richard Nixon was too drunk to discuss the crisis with British Prime Minister Edward Heath, according to transcripts of tape recordings released yesterday.
Henry Kissinger’s assessment of the President’s condition on the night of October 11, 1973, is contained in more than 20,000 pages of transcripts of Kissinger’s phone calls as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State.
I’m guessing that an email I received with the subject heading “worst president ever” triggered this particular ad. I can’t say whether the charge is true or not (hey, spreading this meets the standards of the New York Times); I certainly don’t remember hearing much about Nixon as a big drinker. But in that era, the press were more discrete about the private lives of presidents (see, e.g., JFK). Anyway, without Gmail’s targeted ads, I would never have seen this, and by extension, nor would most of my readers.