April 22, 2004 3:54 PM PDT

Legislator seeks to block Gmail

Blasting Gmail as a horrific intrusion into Internet users' privacy, a California state senator has introduced legislation to block Google's free e-mail service.

State Sen. Liz Figueroa, a Democrat from the Bay Area city of Fremont, said Thursday that it should be illegal for a company to scan the text of its customers' e-mail correspondence and display relevant advertising--even if customers explicitly agree to the practice in exchange for a gigabyte of storage.

"Telling people that their most intimate and private e-mail thoughts to doctors, friends, lovers and family members are just another direct-marketing commodity isn't the way to promote e-commerce," Figueroa said in a statement, which called Gmail customers' correspondence "a direct-marketing opportunity for Google."

Google has encountered unexpectedly severe criticism from advocates of more government regulation to control private companies' business practices. London-based Privacy International has fired off complaints to government officials in at least 16 nations. Meanwhile, a coalition of proregulatory privacy groups wrote a letter to Google, saying it "must" abandon plans to introduce Gmail in its current form. Less regulatory groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, did not sign that letter.

Figueroa's bill says an e-mail or instant-messaging provider can scan outgoing messages from its users, but not incoming ones. It includes a narrow exception for spam and virus filtering.

A Google representative said the company is reviewing the legislation and did not have an immediate response.

Figueroa's proposal would do far more than merely block the forthcoming Gmail service, which is not yet available to the public.

Her broadly written bill says no e-mail or IM provider may "review, examine or otherwise evaluate the content of incoming e-mail or instant message" originating from outside the system without the explicit permission of all outside correspondents, a difficult requirement to meet in practice.

That would make it illegal for a California technology company to offer a "family friendly" e-mail service that discards messages with sexually explicit jokes, for instance. It would also prohibit reviewing incoming messages to make clickable hyperlinks out of text phrases like "www.news.com."

"It's OK to read people's e-mail, if you're trying to fight spam, but it's not OK if you want to show them ads," said Sonia Arrison, director of technology policy at the free-market Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco. "It's not about privacy. It's about hating corporate America."

Figueroa's office acknowledged that there were problems with the bill but predicted that they could be resolved during negotiations in the legislature. A hearing is scheduled before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 4.


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I don't understand why this is a debate... is there not more pressing issues for this person to debate or try to solve? How about the homeless in California? Google is doing something to force change in the industry. I would use the google service for e-mail... if google wants to read my family reunion info and such... fine with me. I'm not doing anything illegal or what I don't expect people to read. People should understand that NO EMAIL is safe! If you put something in e-mail it may get read and posted on a website... ask Microsoft. Several legal issues were around e-mails. (I know this is different, I'm making a point that e-mail is not "secure.")

As long as google puts out what will be read and how it will be used, fine. If they become deceptive, then it is an issue.

One point, can the government issue a supona to google to ask for records of transactions in an email box... even after the person thought the stuff was deleted? That could be an issue. As I said, I don't have an issue with that since I don't break the law.
Posted by dog0906 (9 comments )
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While, I agree with your point of saying there's more important issues to be worked on, I don't agree with your comment about the state helping the homeless. (Although, you may've just using that as a figurtive example and not really meant it.) I know this isn't a politcal debate forum, but my question is this: since when did it become the State's job to take care of people too lazy (or infirmed) to get a job? True, some just can't find work, but (I believe) the majority could and for the remainder that CAN'T work for some reason or another, I believe it's more our duty as as humans to take care of them, not have the State do it for us. Just my $.02.

Also, since when did it become the State's job to babysite us and "protect" us from things that could harm us? Aren't we, as human beinds, naturally looking out for our own best interest and if we see something that would hurt us we stay away from it! DOH!

Posted by (26 comments )
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I totally agree with James, the gov should stop feeling the need to protect us from ourselves. Besides, it's an electronic scan, NO company has the time to go through emails by hand to pick ads. I think most people that want jobs can get them and I think there should be a limit on unemployment benefits.
Posted by XCFan (4 comments )
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If you don't like what Gmail will do...
DON'T USE IT! Its not required to use by the citizens of the world and there are plenty of alternatives. 1)Any other free email services 2) PAY FOR IT YOU CHEAPSKATE! I can't understand the mentality of our lawmakers who think that Google is under any obligation when they offer it for free and tell you in advance what it is going to do. If Google pays for it and you agree to use it, then what's the problem???? Don't like it, DON'T USE IT but don't prevent the millions of others from using it because you are a privacy freak.
Posted by tile (4 comments )
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Can I elect you to be my govenor? Please?! ;-)
Posted by (26 comments )
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What about Spyare? :-)
[quote]"It's OK to read people's e-mail, if you're trying to fight spam, but it's not OK if you want to show them ads," said Sonia Arrison[/quote]

Why not try dealing with Spyware? It can scan what you're doing online and popup relevent ads!!! And it's a whole lot more common than one e-mail service will ever be.
Posted by (26 comments )
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This legislation is far too broad
This law would make scanning incoming email for viruses illegal as well. Let people choose their providers, and let companies choose their privacy policies. They already have to display their policy for consumers--just read it.
Posted by (2 comments )
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damn liberal californian's
let the consumer decide wether to accept the conditions of google's email service. what's going to happen when someone outside the US juristiction opens a similar service? you can't do anything about that with legislation.
Posted by (2 comments )
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You can prevent Gmail ads...
It's really easy to configure your browser to avoid having Google
place ads in your email, and protect your "privacy". Here's how:

1) In the URL field of your browser, do not enter Gmail.com.

2) There is no step 2.

Some of us want the Gmail.com service exactly how it's being
proposed. I *like* the idea of targeted ads. Why does this
California liberal want to prevent me from entering an
agreement with Google to receive them?

I won't tell her what she can and can't do with her body, if she
won't tell me what I can and can't do with my mind!
Posted by macslut (25 comments )
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I always knew Californians were goofy but...
Ok forget the fact that Gmail scans incoming email and places non-obtrusive TEXT ads where you can easily ignore them (where Yahoo and Hotmail just BLURT them out at you).

Scanning incoming email to place ads, create hyperlinks, or to filter out certain things is the way it has always been. Ok wait...let's forget email period!

I want someone with unix or linux to do a traceroute (Windows users do tracert in the command prompt) to a certain website like <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.yahoo.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.yahoo.com</a> and see how many hops your packets take before it reaches its destination. Anyone, with the right scanning capabilities, can intercept your packets. The same is true with email...your email makes many hops to where any skilled hacker, miner, or scanner could pick it up without too much difficulty.

Privacy is not an issue here. This is a well-designed, very functional web-based email service that Hotmail and Yahoo will have a very hard time competing with.

This is not about Privacy, but politics wrapped up so tightly to look like a privacy issue. If these legislators are so dead-set about privacy, they may as well outlaw credit cards, checking accounts, and driver's licenses. Maybe they should do something about those Spyware companies. This is a classic example of a politician trying to keep her job without having a single clue on how to do so....sounds alot like our prez, but that's a different issue altogether...
Posted by (1 comment )
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