Big Brother turns its eye to Gmail

Google's email service is likely to win a Big Brother award for its threat to privacy, according to civil-rights group Privacy International

Privacy International's Big Brother awards highlight organisations that the organisers say pose a significant threat to privacy.

Gmail, currently available to a limited number of users for beta testing, has been criticised by privacy groups for scanning emails and then attempting to add relevant contexual ads.

Google is "a potential winner", particularly as it has resisted discussion with pressure groups such as Privacy International, according to Simon Davies, director of Privacy International.

"Any attempts we have made to meet Google have been rebuffed," said Davies. He expressed concerns that other email providers were likely to follow Google's lead.

Last year's award winners included Ken Livingstone for his role in increasing transport surveillance, and Capita for its role in government surveillance and data management schemes.

The awards ceremony, featuring the comedian Mark Thomas and other special guests, will be open to the public for the first time, in a bid to attract more popular support. There are 1,000 places available free of charge to anyone interested.

"We are trying to change the awards from being an insiders' event -- involving civil liberties organisations, inside-track politicians and friends, to involving a more diverse group of people," said Davies.

Davies accepted that it is difficult to change the way that organisations behave, and that indeed the awards have sometimes had a negative effect in terms of "creating opportunities for slick PR" by giving award winners valuable publicity for their activities. He is now hoping that Privacy International will be able to shift its focus from activism to providing useful information on privacy issues.

To reserve your seat at the Big Brother Awards on 28 July at 7pm, email simon@privacy.org.

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