advocates are concerned that there's one big
flaw with Google Inc.'s free e-mail service: The
company plans to read the messages.
Internet search company says it needs to
know what's in the e-mail that passes through
its system so they can be sprinkled with
advertisements that Google thinks are relevant.
from those targeted ads will pay for the Gmail
service, which began a test last week, offering
up to 500 times as much e-mail storage as
competing Web e-mail programs from Yahoo Inc.
and Microsoft Corp.
electronic letters will be read by
computers, not by Google employees, but the
specter of seeing an ad for an antacid beside a
message from a friend complaining about stomach
pain is enough to make some people nervous about
the e-mail service.
will undoubtedly be some folks that will see
this and freak out," said Ray
Everett-Church, chief privacy officer for
TurnTide Inc., an anti-spam company in
aggressive advertising strategy might put a
damper on Google's biggest move away from its
core business of Internet searches. After
last week, consumer-rights groups began sending
complaints to the privately held Mountain View,
Calif., company and began preparing to warn
users to stay away.
privacy implications of going through and
perusing a customer's e-mail to display targeted
advertising could be the Achilles' heel for
Google's services," said Jordana Beebe,
communications director for the Privacy Rights
Clearinghouse, a consumer group in San Diego.
consternation caught Larry Page, Google's
co-founder and president of products, off guard.
very surprised that there are these kinds of
questions," he said.
programs routinely scour e-mail for telltale
words such as "Viagra," and companies
monitor the messages of employees on their
addition, Internet companies scrutinize Web
search terms to serve up ads that are related to
the topic a user apparently cares about.
AdSense program goes a step further, placing
such ads alongside content on Web sites that
come up in search results.
e-mail is a more personal form of
communication, making targeted advertisements
feel intrusive, said Chris Hoofnagle, associate
director of the Electronic Privacy Information
Center in Washington. He likened the Gmail ads
to a computerized voice interrupting a phone
conversation about a vacation with a pitch for a
is an expansion in a way that should bother
people," Hoofnagle said.
"Communications are sacred."
advocates are also worried about the
potential for Google to link Gmail users to
their Internet searches.
records the numerical Internet addresses of
the computers that request each of the Web
searches the company performs. But it hasn't had
names or other identifying information to link
those addresses to specific people and learn
who, for example, is searching for "Janet
Jackson halftime show."
users register for Gmail, Google could make
that connection, said Pam Dixon, executive
director of the World Privacy Forum in San
Diego. And if Google ever compared the two sets
of data, she said, "there are some people
who would be chilled and embarrassed."
wouldn't say whether Google plans to link
Gmail users to their Web search queries.
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