Confidentiality and Gmail

This morning I was reading a blog post written by Marcela Jenney, encouraging freelancers to get their own web domain. Marcela says that domain names build credibility and create a sense of professionalism. I agree 100% with that, in fact I’ve had my own domain for years. But there is another reason why we should have our own web domains. A very important reason. These days it may be the most important reason of all.

If you have a Google account, you must have received an e-mail from Google describing the changes to their privacy policy, which will take effect on March 1, 2012. According to the e-mail, the text of which can also be found on,

We [Google] are getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.

This stuff matters, so please take a few minutes to read our updated Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service now. These changes will take effect on March 1, 2012.

I agree with them, this stuff matters. It matters a lot. The single privacy policy that will cover multiple products and features as of March 1st states the following:

Your Content in our Services

Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps).

I’ve already talked about the “service” called Google Translate in a prior post and explained why we should not be uploading onto it the documents we are to translate. But that was only one “service”. (I do need to put it in quotes because otherwise I’d have to call this particular application a disservice.)
The big change made by Google now is that this privacy policy will be covering ALL of the services offered by Google. Now do you agree that Gmail is one of those services? (No quotes here, Gmail is indeed a service, a great one, at least up till now.) This means that the above privacy policy applies to Gmail. Hence when you upload or otherwise submit content to Gmail, you give Google (and those [they] work with) a worldwide license to use, […] publish, publicly display and distribute such content. I have read this statement at least 5 times trying to convince myself that I misunderstood, that I missed something, that Google cannot possibly be saying or doing this. But the way this policy is written, it says that Google can use the content of our e-mails and publish it, distribute it, use it to improve its services. As to the first two lines, the statement that “what belongs to you stays yours” is pretty useless, because right after that they say that they can use content that is ours. In other words, the policy says that our stuff is ours but we grant Google a license to use it and publish it and share it. I’ve been reading many online articles on this matter and so far they all confirm this. Can you say for sure that you never included in your e-mails any private information that you don’t want the world to see? Credit card information? Passwords? Received password-confirmation e-mails? Your home address? Your social security number? Your negotiations and agreements with your clients? Attachments with confidential documents that you translated? Your invoices? So Google can use our e-mails along with our translations to improve Google Translate, but this is really nothing compared to the damage that can be done if that information is made public. Maybe Google itself remains true to its motto not to be evil, but it certainly facilitates people to do evil, and with our private information suddenly becoming public, you don’t even need to be a hacker to do evil. Confidential information is offered to everyone on a silver platter.
So get your own web domain. Look for a web-hosting service that also offers e-mail hosting and use it for your professional website and for e-mails. I don’t know if Google plans to use e-mails sent or received before March 1st of 2012. The privacy policy doesn’t mention anything about that. We don’t really know whether they plan to use e-mails at all, but unless they state explicitly in their privacy policy that Gmail is excluded from the services covered by the policy, I suggest we play it safe. And although we may not be able to do anything about past e-mails, we can do something about future ones. Buy your own domain, they are very cheap nowadays. And buy it from a good hosting service. I use hostmonster because when I was planning to set up my own website I did some research and hostmonster seemed to be one of the most user-friendly and great value-for-money options with really good user feedback, but there are plenty of other options out there (I’m just mentioning my own in case you have no idea where to start and would like a recommendation). As a self-employed professional, having your own web domain shows that you take your business seriously and invest in it, it does contribute to your credibility, and it lets you have some control over the information you exchange via e-mail with your clients and colleagues.

NB: I highly recommend reading these two related articles:

Google knows too much about you (from

What Google knows about you (from

The art of name-chopping

The simple is the seal of true.
And beauty is the splendor of truth.
With the words above, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, popularly known as Chandra, concluded his Nobel Prize lecture on 8 December 1983. Toward the end of his talk, he was describing black holes in the astronomical universe, explaining the simplicity in the underlying physics and the beauty of their mathematical description within the framework of Einstein’s theory of relativity. ‘They are,’ he said, ‘the most perfect macroscopic objects there are in the universe.’ […]For newspaper journalists and broadcast interviewers, neither the simplicity of the physics of the black holes nor the mathematical beauty of their description was of major concern; the pronunciation of Chandra’s full name seemed to present them with an astronomical difficulty in and of itself.”
This is the introduction of a very good article about Chandrasekhar, which appeared in the December 2010 issue of Physics Today. Although the last statement of the above paragraph is admittedly funny, as a linguist I couldn’t help but find it sad at the same time, because it is true. “Chandra” is a name very familiar to physicists and engineers; in college we learn about the “Chandra X-ray Observatory”, the “Chandra telescope”. I don’t know how Chandrasekhar felt about this but if it were me I don’t think I’d be very happy about people butchering my name. Especially when it comes to someone that contributed so much to science, I think one should make an effort to say and write the full name: Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. If nothing else, out of respect. I understand that for translators, who are more exposed to foreign names and complex sounds, names such as Chandrasekhar’s may be nothing extraordinary, but even to the untrained ear the pronunciation difficulty should not be “astronomical”!
Chandra X-ray Observatory (Illustration: NASA/CXC/NGST)
Chandra X-ray Observatory (Illustration: NASA/CXC/NGST)
The author goes on to say: “Being the first son, Chandra inherited the name of his grandfather, Ramanathan Chandrasekhar (referred to as R.C. hereafter)”. R.C., like …J.Lo. And further down he writes: “From his high-school days, […] Chandra had determined to pursue a career in pure science. He had as an example his uncle Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (popularly known as C.V. Raman) […]”. C.V. Raman; doesn’t it sound like M.C. Hammer to you? It does to me.
“In February and March [of 1928], Raman, along with Kariamanickam Srinivasa Krishnan, made a fundamental discovery in the molecular scattering of light, later to become known as the Raman effect.” I know about the Raman effect but I never knew Raman’s full name, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in my textbooks. It was always Raman, could have been any Raman, as in “Raman noodles” (my college roommate’s dinner every single night for four years). This, of course, is fine, it’s his last name, not a chopped version or …an acronym.
I don’t know if I’m too sensitive to “name-chopping”, if I should lighten up, if my lack of sympathy towards name-choppers is because when you grow up listening to names like Hatzigiannakopoulos, Papageorgianopoulos, Hatzipanagiotidis, and Papanikolaou, then a 5-syllable name doesn’t exactly present a challenge.
And maybe Indian people don’t care much anyway. Or maybe they do care but are very considerate of those who don’t make an effort to learn or pronounce their full name. Well, instead of speculating, I thought I’d ask one. I asked an old colleague of mine, a programmer, whose name is Vidyasagar Bhakthavatsalam. At work everyone used to call him VB. That’s how he was introduced to me. Sometimes I was confused and thought we were talking about VB as in Visual Basic. A couple of people would call him “Vidya”. VB (my colleague, not the programming language) didn’t seem to mind, I thought that perhaps he even found it amusing. I used to call him VB too, not only because that’s how he was introduced to me but because I didn’t want to stand out as a know-it-all. But I always felt bad when I called him VB. So after not having spoken to him in a while, I e-mailed him out of the blue to ask if it bothered him that I used to butcher his name a few years ago. And if yes, I wanted to apologize (better late than never, I suppose). He sent me a very nice answer, that if one had to shorten his name, he preferred “Vidya” but that “VB works as well”. Which I interpreted to mean that if you call him VB he’ll still answer, but the more you chop off the worse. Then he went on to give me the etymology of his name, which I found beautiful. He said that in Sanskrit, Vidya means knowledge, and Sagar means ocean. So the full name means “ocean of knowledge”. Let me say that these two words are amongst my favorite, both in terms of phonetics and in terms of what they represent. Phonetically I find ocean, océan, ωκεανός, océano, very pleasing to the ear. Same goes for the Greek θάλασσα(sea). The ocean, the sea, is one of the things I miss most about my home country, two of my favorite Greek songs have the word θάλασσα/sea in the title, blue is my favorite color in all of its shades and always has been, and the thought of the ocean evokes to me the notions of openness, adventure, hope, vastness, possibilities, peace. And knowledge… suffice it to say that one of the main reasons I am a translator is because with every text we translate we learn something new. Knowledge to me is like the fountain of youth, a stimulus that keeps me going.  So these two things, ocean and knowledge, combined in a single word, in a single first name, is something I find absolutely beautiful. So my dear friend Vidyasagar, my sincere apologies. The word does represent you indeed, and I apologize for having butchered it for so long.