A California state senator is planning to introduce legislation to block Google's Gmail service. Liz Figueroa says that the 'free' email service, which users pay for by tolerating advertisements injected into their correspondence, violates the assumption that emails are private. Figueroa introduced Do Not Call legislation into the state Senate and said she was concerned by Google's data retention policies and has asked the company to "rethink the whole product".
Many view regulation as inevitable for search engines, as they provide such a powerful public gateway to information. In the United States the Federal Communications Commission regulates radio and TV, and the Federal Trade Commission regulates telemarketing; and critics wonder how else a dominant search engine can be asked to fulfil its obligations of transparency and accountability. But few can have expected that the first significant attempt to regulate Google would focus on one of its ancillary services.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation last week recommended that users delete their Google cookie on a regular basis. Google brushed aside a fierce internal debate about privacy concerns to announce the service with a jokey press release on 1 April. A poorly-worded privacy rider warned users that email would linger on the servers even after a user had closed the account. Accident-prone co-founder Larry Page then poured oil on the fire by refusing to rule out cross-linking a user's search history with the email.
Ironically, Google may have brought the legislation upon itself with its cavalier attitude to the democratically-elected representative for Fremont. Senator Figueroa said she wrote to the company on 8 April and didn't receive a reply. Google prefers its own definition of the word: touting the "uniquely democratic nature" of the Web. ®
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