June 15, 2004 11:56 AM PDT

Hotmail giving cold shoulder to Google mail?

Receiving a coveted invitation to open a free e-mail account on Google's Gmail is a thrill that's literally lost on Microsoft.

At least it was for Joel Johnson's girlfriend, whose account with MSN Hotmail, a rival free e-mail service, bounced invitations to join Gmail twice last Wednesday. That day, Johnson was given the chance to dole out two accounts for Gmail to friends before the high-profile service is widely launched, per Google's policy of limiting membership to friends, and friends of friends, while it works out the kinks.

"The e-mails actually never went through, but I was able to...send them to her" via instant messenger, said Johnson, who wrote about the incident on his Web log, Gizmodo.

He added that several people e-mailed him about having had the same trouble inviting Hotmail users to Gmail. One person said that invitations to Orkut, Google's social networking site, were blocked by Hotmail.

Google acknowledged some similar occurrences with Hotmail but called them "very limited." MSN representatives said there were no known problems with Hotmail users receiving Gmail or Orkut invitations.

"MSN Hotmail treats mail from Gmail accounts in the same manner as all other incoming mail," MSN product manager Brooke Richardson wrote in an e-mail.

In April, Google announced plans to launch Gmail with 1GB of storage, a move that promised to change the landscape of free e-mail services by removing storage limitations and improving e-mail search.

The effort also promised to undercut current offerings from Yahoo and MSN, which charge premiums for additional storage space and have limited search capabilities. As a result, Yahoo on Tuesday overhauled its e-mail service and upped its storage to 100MB.

Google is still testing Gmail, but demand for membership is high. Many people are clamoring for popular user names already claimed on rival services or are desperate to flee current spam-ridden accounts. Consequently, a cottage industry has surfaced, with sites like Gmail Swap letting people exchange invitations for goods and services. People are offering "friendship" and "Brazilian chocolate" in exchange for a Gmail invitation, according to two posts on the site.

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

One privacy group has even set up a Web site called Gmail is too creepy to promote a ban on receiving Gmail or sending mail to members.

 

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