Germans garotte Google Gmail over privacy

Email scans are verboten

Google may have to rethink its new free email service Gmail, announced a week ago. The company is offering a whopping 1Gb of free storage, but scans the content of incoming email and seeds it with targeted ads.

This is forbidden, under German privacy laws, Andreas Hermann of the German Federal Data Protection Commission told a Hanover newspaper yesterday. In Germany, email, fax and phone conversations are considered to be confidential. Snooping on email is permitted only when substantial criminal activity is suspected.

Google stresses it will assign computers and not people to scan the content of emails, but this may still be a violation in Europe, where privacy protection laws are much stricter than in the US, where Google is based.

On Monday, citizens' group Privacy International filed a complaint with the UK Information Commissioner, and in the US 28 privacy and civil liberties groups yesterday sent an open letter, urging Google to reconsider its plans. The group claims the Gmail system sets "potentially dangerous precedents and establishes reduced expectations of privacy in email communications".

Meanwhile, Spymac Network announced a 1Gb email capacity increase for all its free member mail accounts with no strings attached. But maybe that's because their hosting servers are located in Dusseldorf, Germany. ®

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