Google to consider Gmail changes

The search engine giant says it is "batting about" possible changes to its Gmail Web-based e-mail service, which launched last month to a chorus of privacy concerns.

Google said Tuesday it is "batting about" possible changes to its Gmail Web-based e-mail service, which launched last month to a chorus of privacy concerns.

The search engine giant unveiled Gmail in late March to about 1,000 people in what it called a limited test. Nevertheless, it immediately produced an uproar over plans to offer Web surfers up to 1GB of storage for free, subsidized by advertising based on keywords scanned from messages and delivered over the service.

Google spokesman David Krane said the company plans to listen closely to the responses of test users and other interested parties during a three- to six-month test period. He said Google may make changes based on the recommendations it receives, but it hasn't yet made any definitive decisions.

"We are in the very earliest phases of testing, and we are actively soliciting and analyzing feedback from users and third parties, including privacy groups," Krane said. "We're definitely batting about a number of options for changes to the service, but we have not yet made any specific commitments or announcements about changes to come to Gmail."

Google's plans have drawn a sharp reaction from privacy advocates, who worry about potential abuses of a system that might allow the company to permanently store millions of e-mail messages and scan their content.

On Monday, Sen. Liz Figueroa, a Democrat from Fremont, Calif., said she was drafting legislation that would prevent Google or any other company from examining the content of e-mail in order to serve up ads.

Last week, Privacy International urged Britain's information commissioner to take action against the service, although that official appears unlikely to take a hard line.

Krane said the company was surprised by the amount of interest in Gmail, given its limited release. He would not speculate about possible alterations to Gmail's controversial advertising component. He offered a "no comment" when asked whether it would be economical to offer millions of people up to 1GB of storage for free without advertising to help pay for it.

Krane also highlighted some privacy enhancements of Gmail over some other e-mail services. For example, he said, the application does not automatically display images in e-mail, potentially reducing the threat of tracking technology frequently included in e-mail known as Web beacons or clear GIFs.

"The reaction so far has been very favorable from people who have tested and used it," Krane said.

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