Aust & NZ
This page considers webmail, browser-based email that
is independent of an ISP.
It covers -
Webmail uses a web interface to allows people to write
and read email using a web browser,
often using a machine that is located in a cybercafe
or that is otherwise different to their personal computer.
Webmail is offered by internet directories
such as Yahoo!, networks (MSN's Hotmail), search engines
(eg Google's GMail) and mail specialists (eg freemail.com.au,
30gigs.com, inbox.com and xasamail.com), often in conjunction
with free personal web hosting.
That service is based on exposure to advertising (with
users for example seeing banner ads when they sign-on
and with each message).
As of 2000 it is likely that there were around 300 million
such accounts across the globe, although many of those
accounts were inactive - they had been abandoned by users
- and many were held by the same people, with suggestions
for example that the 'average' Yahoo! and Hotmail user
has more than four accounts. In December 2006 Hotmail
claimed some 270 million active accounts worldwide, with
a billion emails supposedly being sent to Hotmail accounts
each day. How many of those are spam?
By March 2007 comScore Media Metrix was claiming that
Gmail had 51 million users worldwide, Microsoft's Live
Mail/Hotmail had 228 million users and Yahoo had 250 million
In the 1990s some 'free internet' services offered access
in exchange for provision by the user of personal information
(sold to third parties as 'de-identified' aggregated demographics
data or simply as mailing lists). That business model
fizzled in the face of competition from less intrusive
service providers and recognition that many users were
supplying spoof data (the '100 year old female Albanian
millionaire of Nowhere Street in Antarctica').
Many internet service providers (ISPs)
offer remote access to a regular email account through
a webmail gateway.
Webmail access has the advantage that it is independent
of the person's machine: messages can be read/sent from
wherever the person has access to a browser and internet
connection and do not have to be downloaded to that person's
laptop/desktop machine. Users however have to maintain
an online connection to the webmail server, often encounter
storage limits (a problem if sending/receiving graphic
attachments) and slow speeds, and may be inhibited by
poor editing tools.
Most webmail providers are seeking to attract and retain
users by offering other services, in particular free file
30gigs.com for example promotes itself as
"All in one" site for the webmaster and avid
computer users. Combining personal file storage, GD2
signatures and anonymous email all in one service, which
would be free. Our main goal is to provide as much space
as possible for today's webmail users where tons of
storage space is needed.
Webmail has been variously hailed as a tool for freedom:
many services allow a high degree of anonymity in gaining
a webmail account, physical access from different locations
may impede surveillance activity, lack of cost and ease
of registration means that users can treat it as a 'throwaway
Conversely it has been assailed as a tool for spammers,
terrorists, paedophiles and other criminals who will take
advantage of those attributes. It has attracted criticism
over potential datamining by service providers.
Critics have commented that because messages from web-mailaccounts
do not pass through corporate email systems, US businesses
could run face difficulties with federal legislation requiring
them to archive corporate mail and provide that correspondence
during commercial litigation or inquiry by government
agencies. In practice businesses have little control over
the life span of messages in employee webmail accounts,
a concern given advice from corporate lawyers to delete
messages from servers and individual machines after a
certain period to inhibit legal discovery by litigants.
Security consultancy Proofpoint claimed in 2006 that 37%
of US enterprises used software to monitor office use
of webmail. The effectiveness of that monitoring is unclear.
It appears that policies prohibiting use of webmail -
for example forwarding messages to laptops and home machines
for work away from the office - are often ignored by senior
managers and line staff.
One perspective is provided by Grant Yang's 2005 DLTR
Stop The Abuse of Gmail!, which offer a view
of privacy issues and selective indignation.