Privacy Group Files Gmail Complaints With Europe, Canada

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A United Kingdom-based privacy group lodged complaints about Google's new e-mail service with European and Canadian regulators.

Privacy International said yesterday that the complaints were filed with 15 European countries, Canada and the European Commission over Google's planned Gmail service, which combines Google's search technology with an Internet e-mail service, organizing e-mail by topic and allowing users to search them. Gmail gives users 250 to 500 times the storage of free e-mail services like MSN's Hotmail and Yahoo. In exchange, Google scans incoming messages and matches them up with related text ads.

In its written complaint, Privacy International director Simon Davies wrote that some Gmail practices may amount to a violation of the European Union privacy law.

The letter noted Gmail's intent to scan incoming e-mail messages for their context and match them up with advertiser listings sold through its AdSense service. While most e-mail providers scan messages for spam and viruses, Privacy International said "the Gmail process does not merely extend this function, it takes it into a new context."

Privacy International also objected to Gmail scanning messages from non-Gmail users who have not consented. The letter questioned Gmail's data-retention policy, and its plan to store e-mails, even those deleted, for an unlimited time.

The complaints come a week after this privacy group complained to the UK information commissioner on similar grounds. The UK regulator declined to act since Gmail is only in testing, according to Reuters.

Privacy International said it would file complaints in another 13 countries in the next two weeks.

Privacy concerns have swirled around Gmail since Google's announcement of the service April 1. Last week, a California legislator, state Sen. Liz Figueroa, said she planned to introduce legislation banning Gmail in that state. Days earlier, 28 privacy groups petitioned Google to hold off on the service until their concerns are addressed.

Google has steadfastly held that Gmail does not violate any privacy laws. The company said it would evaluate all feedback about the service during its test phase, currently under way with about 1,000 users, before making any changes.

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