Gmail, which was launched in April 2004 and is still officially in a beta testing phase, is still not open to the general public. Within months of coming online, Google changed its Gmail membership policy to prevent people from profiting on the sale of popular e-mail names. At first, Google let only select family and friends open accounts, yet it has slowly opened up membership more broadly to friends of those already holding accounts.
This latest development could indicate that either Google is hoping to significantly expand its user base for further testing or the company is gearing up for a full launch.
At the time of writing, Google was not available for comment.
Gmail's popularity has already been targeted by online criminals. In September 2004, scammers sent phishing e-mails to existing holders of Gmail accounts, offering them the opportunity to invite three or six of their friends to join Gmail.
The fraudulent e-mail, which claimed to originate from the "Gmail Team", asked users to disclose their Gmail account passwords to receive the additional invites.