Google calls its new e-mail service a big boom in online communication. But some consumer watchdog groups are calling it a bust when it comes to privacy issues.
Google is about to launch a free service called Gmail
. Critics are trying to get the search engine company to drop plans to electronically scan e-mail content so it can push related ads alongside the incoming messages.
Privacy advocates fear Gmail will comb through e-mail more than filters already in use to get rid potential viruses and spam.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin says the system will be totally automated, no human eyes will peer into private messages.
"No e-mail content or other personally identifiable information is ever provided to advertisers," Brin said.
Opponents of the Gmail service also want Google to reconsider its policy on what it does with e-mail that passes through its system. The company plans to keep copies of users' incoming and outgoing e-mail -- even after they close their accounts.
San Diego's Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is one of the companies leading the charge against GMail. (Read Coalition's Letter To Google
California state Sen. Liz Figueroa also opposes Gmail, calling it a Faustian bargain.
In a letter to Google, Figueroa wrote, "I believe you are embarking on a disaster of enormous proportions, for yourself and for all of your customers."
Figueroa is also asking the state Legislature to put the brakes on Google's plan for the service.
An official with the Center for Democracy and Technology
said Gmail has a "definite creepiness factor."
For its part, Google says the commercializing of e-mail is a small trade-off for getting up to 1 gigabyte of storage -- far more than most free e-mail providers make available to users.
Advertisers are high on the idea, and some consumers say it sounds like a good deal. Tim, an Internet user at the Escondido City Library, told the Troubleshooter that 1 gigabyte of storage would be great. He said the ads attached to incoming e-mails would make it easier for him to search the Internet for goods and services.
Some have warned that attaching an email address and a name could allow Google to track most anything you do online through its services by name.
Google's move to add an e-mail service -- it's currently in testing with an invited group of users -- comes as other companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo! try to match Google's web-searching services and the company prepares to possibly start offering public stock.
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