Benjamin Mako Hill has long hosted his own email server. In Google Has Most Of My Email Because It Has All Of Yours, he rethinks that strategy after this conversation:
A few years ago, I was surprised to find out that my friend Peter Eckersley — a very privacy conscious person who is Technology Projects Director at the EFF — used Gmail. I asked him why he would willingly give Google copies of all his email. Peter pointed out that if all of your friends use Gmail, Google has your email anyway. Any time I email somebody who uses Gmail — and anytime they email me — Google has that email.”
Benjamin goes on to analyze his email archive and arrives at this sobering conclusion:
Despite the fact that I spend hundreds of dollars a year and hours of work to host my own email server, Google has about half of my personal email!
How could we manage our hosted lifebits in a way that enables our bits to commingle without loss of control? It’s easy in principle, though hard in practice. Here’s the easy-in-principle approach. An email is not a bag of bits that I send to you. It’s a bag of bits that I park in my own personal cloud, which is a cloud service that I trust, and/or a set of devices I own. I don’t send you the bits, I send you a link. Access to the bits, via that link, is governed by permissions I set.
You, conversely, authorize me to follow links that invite me to access your messages and replies. We both end up with archives of our conversational threads. Yes, of course, there’s nothing to prevent either of us from violating trust and sharing those threads with the world. But there’s no intermediary, we communicate directly, and we have joint custody of our mutual data in what Groove called a shared space.
There are, of course, all sorts of reasons why this is hard-in-practice and may never happen. But are they good reasons?