Company beginning to show willingness to be flexible in how it offers e-mail service
By Laura Rohde, IDG News Service April 15, 2004
Since announcing Gmail two weeks ago, Google Inc. has been forced to defend the planned Web-based e-mail service against accusations that it may violate users' privacy. In the face of the attacks, especially vociferous in Europe, which has strict privacy regulations, Google has begun to express willingness to be flexible about how it offers the service.
"This is one of the hottest issues we've ever dealt with in terms of Internet issues," said Simon Davies, the director of the privacy advocate group, Privacy International.
Since the Gmail announcement, Spymac Network Inc. has launched a free online e-mail service that matches the 1G byte of storage that Google is offering, but has pointedly said it will not do key-word searching and will not tie advertisements to the service.
Last week, Privacy International filed a formal complaint with the U.K.'s information commissioner office (ICO) requesting that action be taken against Gmail. Additionally, California state Democratic senator Liz Figueroa said the privacy issues were leading her to consider proposing legislation to stop Google from launching its Gmail service in its present form.
In the face of such opposition, Google has given signs that it may be rethinking how the Gmail service is structured. The service would require all users to participate in the ad service -- that is, users would have to accept the display of ads and the scanning of their e-mail messages -- but that could change, as could many other things, since Gmail is in early testing phase, a Google spokesman said Wednesday.
"Google has the highest regard for the privacy of our users' information. We have taken great care to architect Gmail to protect user privacy and to deliver an innovative and useful service. While we're still in a limited test of Gmail, we welcome and appreciate feedback on how we can improve the offering for our users," he said via e-mail.
The technology that presents users with relevant Gmail advertisements operates in the same way as all popular Web mail features that process e-mail content to provide a user benefit, such as spam filtering or virus detection, he said.
"We are confident that Gmail is fully compliant with data protection laws worldwide. Google actively solicits user feedback on our privacy policies. If they can be made clearer or otherwise improved, we want to hear about it. We look forward to a detailed dialogue with data protection authorities across Europe to ensure their concerns are heard and resolved," he said. [ Read More ]