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Last Updated: Monday, 5 April, 2004, 22:27 GMT 23:27 UK
Google's Gmail sparks privacy row
GMail logo from Google website www.gmail.com
Internet search engine Google's plans for a free email service have come under fire from privacy campaigners.

Google is devising Gmail as a rival to Microsoft's Hotmail and to Yahoo!

Privacy campaigners have objected to plans to send users adverts linked to the content of messages, and to the permanent storage of email.

Campaign group Privacy International has filed a complaint with the UK Information Commissioner, Reuters news agency reported.

The Information Commissioner's job is to make sure organisations comply with a web of laws safeguarding privacy and freedom of information.

Online snooping?

Privacy International objects to Google's plans to send users links to advertising based on a computer scan of their correspondence, and presumed interests.

At present, users of Google's internet search engine receive advertisements for commercial sites linked to their search topic arranged down the right-hand side of their screens.

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Gmail would use similar technology to scan emails and offer advertisements.

Google says the content of users' email would remain private because the process would be fully automated.

"No humans read your emails to target the ads," Google's web site says.

But Simon Davies, director of Privacy International has called the proposed system "a vast violation of European law".

Too much of a good thing?

Gmail's proposed message storage systems are also angering privacy campaigners.

Google has promoted free storage for each user of the equivalent of 500,000 pages of email among Gmail's benefits.

Google says this will enable users to retrieve vast amounts of old emails, and that it will back this up with superior spam filtering.

However, its terms of use acknowledge that "residual copies of email may remain on our systems, even after you have deleted them from your mailbox or after the termination of your account".

"If a person deletes an email, he should be confident that email is actually deleted," Bits of Freedom founder Maurice Westerling said.

Google has a commanding lead in the global internet search engine market, although its market share has shrunk sharply during the past month after Yahoo stopped using Google technology to power its searches.

Google is privately-owned, but expected to float on the stock market later this year, a deal that could value Google at up to $25bn (14.7bn) - slightly more than listed online retailer Amazon.

The California-based company was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

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