Google bans Gmail swaps and sales

Gmail members prohibited from trading, selling account names as entrepreneurs seek to profit on clublike demand for the service.

Google changed its Gmail membership policy this week to prevent people from profiting on the sale of popular e-mail names.

According to Google's new policy, altered Monday, the Web search company prohibits Gmail subscribers from selling, trading or transferring the free e-mail accounts "for any unauthorized commercial purpose." It also bars people from setting up multiple accounts in violation of the policy.

The changes are designed to deter people from creating multiple e-mail accounts with the purpose of reselling or trading them, according to a source at the company. The policy alterations do not target people trying to barter Gmail invitations, which allow people to sign up for a new membership.

The Mountain View, Calif., search company was likely responding to instances of individuals and commercial ventures attempting to profit from the popular, yet not widely available, service. For example, an eBay auction for Gmail account names "" or ""--for the respective campaigns of the top Republican and Democratic presidential candidates--could violate the rule.

Google began publicly testing Gmail in late March, in a move that rattled rival e-mail providers with promises of vast improvements to free Web-based e-mail. Gmail, for example, offers users a whopping 1 gigabyte of storage and lets people search unlimited archives of conversations. At first, Google let only select family and friends open accounts, yet it has slowly opened up membership more broadly to friends of those already holding accounts.

Yet the clublike for accounts has inspired entrepreneurs. Online auction site eBay has as many as 2,000 listings for Gmail invitations for sale, ranging from 1 cent to as much as $30 for 10 accounts. Web operations like Gmail Swap have cropped up to help people exchange invitations for goods and services. And the Institute for Spam and Public Policy recently started a Web site and campaign called Gmail 4 Troops to encourage people to share their Gmail invitations with military fighting in the Iraqi war.

Potentially more concerning, however, could be people who sign up for Gmail accounts with a common or company-trademarked name with a profit motive. The practice is similar to parties who purchase potentially lucrative, trademarked domain names and attempt to sell them to the owner, a practice called domain squatting.

Google's Gmail also has sparked criticism from privacy advocates because it involves scanning the contents of e-mail and delivering related ads. The California Senate passed a Gmail bill that seeks to limit companies' ability to survey e-mail for advertising purposes.

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