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privacySo email's becoming obsolete, huh?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said as much last June. And of course, everyone knows younger users don't even use email anymore. (Let's just ignore the fact that you can't open a Facebook account without an email address).

Now, Facebook's set to announce Project Titan on Monday, which is almost universally expected to be an unveiling of Facebook's "Gmail killer" email service.

The two companies have been firing shots across one another's bow's all week. Google lags behind in social networking. And while Facebook does messaging, it doesn't do email. Both have drawn a pretty serious bead on the other company's turf.

The most recent contretemps between Google and Facebook is in regard to importing and exporting Gmail contact lists into Facebook. "Hold on a second," Google has started warning users trying to do just that, "Are you super sure you want to import your contact information for your friends into a service that won’t let you get it out?"

This, while committing hundreds of millions of dollars to employee bonuses and an across the board 10% raise to keep Googlers from defecting to what's clearly becoming a formidible competitor. Speaking of competition, it's rumored Facebook will team with Microsoft to pull this off (the two already partnered earlier this year on Docs.com, aimed squarely at another Google offering). Microsoft could clearly help make FacebookMail (for lack of a working title) POP and IMAP accessible, as well as potentially searchable.

If Facebook does team with Microsoft to launch an email service, it's only the latest salvo in what's becoming a kaiju epic. Forget Godzilla vs. Mechgodzilla. We've now got Facebook + Microsoft vs. Google (email and docs); Microsoft + Yahoo vs. Google (search); Facebook vs. Foursquare (Places); Apple kind of admitting defeat with Ping by integrating the service with Twitter - oh, and Google shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to keep its employees from decamping to any of the aforementioned rivals.

Especially Facebook.

It's about the privacy


As the titans clash, it's important not to lose sight of the real issues here. They all center arouond user data and user privacy. Unlike much of what transpires on a social network (which is, after all, social), email is private communication. If Facebook does indeed offer its members email, they'll know where they shop, what they bought, what their travel plans are, as well as have access to new levels of information about their work, friends, activities, penchants and contacts.

The information will be personal as well as personally-identifiable, and you can bet they'll monetize it with advertising.

The real question is how well Facebook will understand, and consistently respect, the fact that email's email, i.e. it tends to be a lot more private than social. The key word here, of course, is "consistent," a word that can hardly be applied to Facebook's spotty-verging-on-capricious privacy practices of late. To pull this off, Facebook needs a rock-solid and unwavering policy to protect its users' data, and by extension, their privacy.

Whoever gets the most user data wins. Let's just hope and pray the winner is the company with the most bulletproof privacy policy.

Image: opensourceway

Rebecca Lieb

Published 12 November, 2010 by Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb oversees Econsultancy's North American operations.

Follow me on Twitter, or connect with me on Facebook.

160 more posts from this author

Comments (9)

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Mara

It's the question if you have to sign in to Facebook to write a quick email. I send messages on Facebook, but emails are more important to me and I guess I will not change. But you are right that younger people use Facebook and chat a lot. They have the time. Chatting is quite time consuming, which you stop as you work.

almost 6 years ago

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Fred Baniks

Factually incorrect, you can open a facebook account with your mobile number

almost 6 years ago

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Gabriele Maidecchi

I am not sure I'd be comfortable letting Facebook manage my email

At the moment my company runs on Google Apps services, so we're not totally privacy-safe, but historically Facebook inspires far less trust than Google.

almost 6 years ago

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Charlie Seymour Jr

The only way we (as consumers) will know if Facebook gets email right is to test it. Isn't that the marketers mantra anyway? TEST. So bring it on. Took me a while to dive deeply into gmail. I still maintain a business email account that "looks" like a business but I have it auto forwarded to my gmail account so I don't lose anything. This was partly forced on me when a pesky computer stopped operating reliably and all my emails were suck into that computer through Outlook. So when I changed phones (now with the Droid X) that is a Google Android smart phone and put all my mail into gmail and all my appointments into Google Calendar, everything is moving smoothly. So Google has a huge head start. My gmail account is my login at many locations, including my extensive library at YouTube, one of Google's children. And though I'm logged into some locations through Facebook, the email address location isn't ON Facebook. So... bring it on. Let us test. We'll tell you which system is ready for prime time: Google already is! Charlie Seymour Jr http://CreateYourOwnLegendNow.com

almost 6 years ago

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Ben

Facebook can do whatever they want with email, but the facts are that people use Google and Facebook for totally different reasons. Email is important and not dead. Neither is regular mail. Facebook is there so share post things for the public to see, while email is between a select few people, often times just between two people. Unless Facebook has something else up their sleeve, I don't see the lure in having a Facebook email address. 

almost 6 years ago

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EV SSL Certificates

I am not abiding I'd be adequate absolution Facebook administer my email

At the moment my aggregation runs on Google Apps services, so we're not absolutely privacy-safe, but historically Facebook inspires far beneath assurance than Google.

almost 6 years ago

Jay Chambers

Jay Chambers, Owner at Jaymail Email Marketing

Titan could be huge - and is particuarly important for me as an email marketer. I have written about some of the great things we could expect from 'Titan', including a more social inbox - but also written about the 'cons' such as spam concerns stemming from facebook profile names and more. Read the article here: http://jyml.me/9tqyny

almost 6 years ago

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Meghan Burton, SEO & Social Media Manager at Web Marketplace Solutions

Email is far from obsolete. My main reason for using Gmail is the fact that it works, and it works really really well. It's less cluttered and less annoying than any other free email service. Like most things Google offers, it's just better than the competition. I was formerly a Hotmail user and sometimes still log on in case I've missed something - the interface makes me cringe. So far, Facebook's messaging system doesn't inspire me with confidence that they'll do email particularly well. And that's not even going into privacy. I have nothing to hide really - I know Google can read all of my email - but I don't trust Facebook to keep even that safe.

almost 6 years ago

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Caleb.G.C.Jarvis

This is fantastic news, it's a lot more use than previously. Maybe one day Facebook will be doing Facebook websites with paypal for the ultimate experience, all of it powered by Microsoft!

almost 6 years ago

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