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Total Information Awareness

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Watchdog Privacy International, known for its annual "Big Brother Awards," has asked the UK Information Commissioner to investigate Google's email service. Gmail was launched as an ill-advised April's Fools Prank last week.

Simon Davies, director of the watchdog, describes Gmail as "a vast violation of European law". Google itself doesn't appear to have done due diligence.

"I don't think we are doing anything unreasonable," says Wayne Rosing, Google's VP of Engineering. Unlawful, maybe.

We can help. Since 1998 the EU has had strict rules about data flows. Here's the CDT's links for the EU's Data Protection directive and some more about the Safe Harbor provisions. We found them through Google. As these may be traumatic for Google executives, here are some links to a Segway gallery, some colored foam balls, and some kittens.

The company still seems unaware of the issues surrounding what Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, calls a gift horse with "rotten teeth and bad breath." The Guardian noted that having enjoyed "an almost slavishingly admiring press", Google's response veered from unconvincing to apologetic to simply bemused."

"What seems to be missed is that the sheer scale of centralization of Google's service is frightening," writes Seth Finkelstein, who dubs it 'Total Information Awareness', after the DARPA data collection project led by convicted Iran Contra felon John Poindexter. "Every message you send, every message you receive, in ONE PLACE, tagged and sorted and indexed, with a history of who sent it to you and who you sent it to (traffic analysis!). And correlate it all with your web-searching, and your social network (Orkut) and your shopping (ads).

Also unresolved is the issue of why Google needs to retain your email after you've closed your account. We don't think it's because a company with dozens of PhDs can't find the rm command. ®

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Google launches email, takes the Bill Gates defense
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Google revives discredited Microsoft privacy policy for Friendster clone

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