Google is facing yet more privacy obstacles on the path of introducing its Google GMail free emailing service to the masses. The big privacy controversy revolves is about GMail’s AdWords/AdSense contextual ad targeting technology (based on email content). Previously, such privacy concerns had raised privacy eyebrows in the EU and with privacy advocate organizations, however, today a State Senator from California raised her concern about Google’s GMail.
Democrat Liz Figueroa today sent a letter to Google, urging them to discard a plan to scan customer emails for content, and insert ads related to the subject matter of the private conversations.
“I cannot urge you strongly enough to abandon this misbegotten idea,” Figueroa wrote. “I believe you are embarking on a disaster of enormous proportions, for yourself, and for all of your customers.”
Figueroa praised Google, a California company, for its past success in understanding how individuals would be using the new technology, and creating an application that transformed the information world. However, Figueroa thought the new e-mail proposal, which Google calls Gmail, is based on a core misunderstanding about its customers. The proposal would offer individuals large e-mail storage in exchange for the ability to scan all private emails in order to insert ads that might be related to the ongoing personal discussions.
Figueroa is not alone in questioning Google’s GMail advertising and Internet privacy. On April 6, the World Privacy Forum and 27 other privacy and civil liberties organizations composed an open letter calling upon Google to suspend its Gmail service until the privacy issues are adequately addressed.
Google claims that computerized scanning of e-mails is nothing new because its service performs some essential function as antivirus and anti-spam software, which has to scan e-mail text regularly. No employee of the company actually reads the e-mail while doing so.