When Internet search engine giant Google launched its free 1GB email service, Gmail on April 1, 2004, they did so without support for Apple Computer Inc.’s Safari Web browser. The browser requirement page on the company’s Web site lists several compatible browsers for the beta of Gmail, but Safari is still not among them. All of that will change before Gmail is available to the public, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
Brin noted that he was “embarrassed” that Gmail’s beta doesn’t support Safari, but said that they will add Safari support before its public release.
“We’re going to make it work with Safari and that’s one of the high priority things,” Brin told MacCentral. “I’ve heard that you can sort of get it to work if you’re desperate. I want to fix that, and I want to make it work really well.”
Gmail will allow customers keep about 1GB of messages and search through those messages using the familiar Google search interface. Users will also be able to organize their messages in “conversations” that group a message together with all replies to it, much like Internet newsgroups organize messages into threads or Apple’s Mail.app. Google will make money from the service by scanning the contents of the email and placing targeted ads on the pages.
While Internet users applauded the service, Gmail faced challenges from privacy groups and a trademark dispute.
Just seven days after Gmail was announced, a coalition of 28 privacy and civil liberties groups wrote Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page a letter urging them to think again about the service, which they said sets potentially dangerous precedents for the automated scanning of private communications. The service may conflict with European privacy laws, and should be suspended until privacy issues are addressed, they wrote.
Many e-mail systems already scan message content in an effort to block spam, but inserting ads in incoming e-mail is fundamentally different than removing harmful viruses and unwanted spam, the campaigners said. Inserting ads on the fly requires a chain of directories, databases and logs, and a long memory. Those auditing trails could be correlated with data collected from Google’s search site, or social networking site Orkut, they said.
Google Vice President of Engineering Wayne Rosing sought to reassure the campaigners: The Gmail user’s name is not sent to the ad server, and when the system scans the email, it does not look at the To or From fields, only the subject and body of the mail, he said in an interview.
Whatever the details of Gmail’s scanning process, it sets dangerous precedents and reduces users’ expectations of the privacy of e-mail, the civil liberties groups said.
Google may have some other protecting to do. Days after it announced the details of Gmail, its trademark is already being disputed. Following Google’s use of the name Gmail in a press release, financial service provider The Market Age PLC (TMA) registered its interest in the name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the British company said in a news release Tuesday.
TMA launched a Web-based e-mail service called Gmail in mid-2002 as part of an online share price and currency exchange rate analysis service offered by subsidiary Pronet Analytics.com Ltd., it said. Pronet’s Gmail allows subscribers to annotate stock price charts and forward them by e-mail. The company is seeking advice on how to protect its intellectual property, it said.