Search History: Google and Germany, Part 1
Jul 12, 2011 5:00 AM PT
From the clothing ads that dance around in epileptic flashes to the constant requests for your credit card number, email service from the German website GMX.net has some shortcomings. You can get 1 GB of memory, but you'll need a credit card for anything more -- a 5 GB allowance runs about US$4.50 per month, and for 10 GB, you pay about $7.50 per month.
That may seem steep, but it'd be even pricier if not for the enormous dating-site banners seducing clicks between visits to the in-box. In its defense, GMX.net does have a customer service line. And it only costs about $2.60 per minute.
If this doesn't sounds appealing, then there is always Google's email service, Gmail. It is entirely free and offers more than 7 GB of memory. That number is ever-swelling; you can track its perpetual ascension at Gmail.com as it ticks up and up toward infinity -- think U.S. national debt clock for email storage. And if more memory is a must, 20 GB can be had for $5.00 -- a year.
Gmail can make dirt-cheap telephone calls (calls to the U.S. and Canada are free), and video chats are an option as well. You can send instant messages to multiple people; you can save and edit documents in Google Docs; you can embed YouTube videos within emails. Oh, and the eDarling dating ads that litter GMX are mercifully blocked from Gmail.
Basically, Google's email trumps GMX's email in just about every conceivable way -- storage, design, price, features. You name it, and GMX looks perfectly 1998. It hasn't caught up -- at least not with Google.
And that may be exactly why Dominik Pflaume is a devout GMX.net user.
Pflaume isn't deluded -- he knows Gmail is the superior product. To wit, Pflaume, from the German city of Borken, recently opened a Gmail account for a school assignment (he's getting a master's degree in journalism).
He realized that collaborating with peers, editing drafts and keeping information in order would be easier with Gmail, so he caved in the name of grades: The most important assignment of the year, he figured, deserved something better than GMX.net.
Still, dust started collecting on his Gmail address the moment the assignment was done. And that's the way Pflaume wants it.
"You never know what Google is going to do with your information -- you don't have any influence on that," Pflaume, 24, told TechNewsWorld. "They could easily change the contract you agree to by using their services. And the state that regulates it always has to react to whatever the companies do. You have no protection against the use and misuse of your data."
Pflaume admitted that he sounded paranoid (his word). But reticence about Google isn't particular to him. It's part of German culture, a manifestation of the contentious, litigious relationship Google, one of the world's most advanced companies, has with Germany, one of the world's most advanced nations.
The innovations that Google rolls out at a dizzying clip -- Street View, Google Analytics, Gmail, Google Maps, and so on -- have for years run into layer upon layer of resistance and skepticism in Germany. Indeed, Germany and Google have a long way to go. Why else would people still be using GMX.net?
In the 1980s, before East Germany and West Germany reunified, West Germany conducted a nationwide census, the Bundeszensus. The questions on the census were innocent enough -- what kind of energy do you use, how big is your apartment, where do you live, and so on. But people didn't take kindly to the idea of data collection, even of the mundane variety, according to Uwe Hasebrink, a professor of communication studies at the University of Hamburg.
"The number of people who rejected the census -- and it was compulsory at the time, everyone got the questionnaire -- the number of people who said, 'No, I'm not ready to answer this,' who got fined, was incredible," Hasebrink told TechNewsWorld. "And you might think, 'What the hell is so important about filling out a questionnaire?' But there were major demonstrations and a major degree of civil unrest."
This may seem a little paranoid, to borrow from Pflaume. But there were reasons for the country's sensitivity to the census. The wounds of World War II were still wide open in the 1980s; not long before, countless Germans had been both the victims and perpetrators of sinister data-collecting activities.
Along with those whose lives were marred by the snooping of the Third Reich's Gestapo, there were many a family with Gestapo connections of their own, connections that people would just as soon leave buried in the past.
In addition, West Germany went through its own version of McCarthyism: Generated by fear of the rise of communist East Germany, paranoia-fueled background checks pervaded the public sector.