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Google's Gmail Raises Privacy Concern
Fri Apr 02 2004 00:33:23 ET

Privacy advocates are concerned that there's one big flaw with Google Inc.'s free e-mail service: The company plans to read the messages.

LA TIMES reporting on Friday: The Internet search firm insists that it needs to know what's in the e-mails that pass through its system -- so that they can be sprinkled with advertisements Google thinks are relevant. After all, revenue from those targeted ads will pay for the Gmail service, which began a limited test Thursday, offering up to 500 times as much e-mail storage as competing Web e-mail programs from Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

The TIMES adds: The electronic letters won't be read by Google employees; computers will handle that chore. Nonetheless, the spector 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.

"There 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 Conshohocken, Pa. The aggressive advertising strategy may put a damper on Google's biggest move yet away from its core business of Internet search. After reading the privacy policy on the Gmail website Thursday, consumer-rights groups began sending complaints to the privately held Mountain View, Calif., company and preparing to warn users to stay away.

"The 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, the communications director for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, an consumer group in San Diego.

The consternation caught Larry Page, Google's co-founder and president of products, off guard.

"I'm very surprised that there are these kinds of questions," he said Thursday.


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