Google to Stop Scanning Emails for Advertising Purposes

John Lister's picture

Google is to stop scanning Gmail messages for advertising purposes. The move was driven largely by a need to satisfy business customers.

The company announced that "Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change." A company spokesman said this would bring the consumer service into line with the G Suite service for businesses.

Business Users 'Put Off' By Scanning

Diane Greene said that although business customers "have never had their messages scanned for use in advertising, many potential customers were nonetheless put off the product by the mistaken impression that they were." Rather than put more effort into trying to correct this mistaken belief, Google is simply ditching the ad scanning altogether.

The scanning meant that Google's computers would look through the content of a message and use it as one of the factors that determine the advertisements that can appear alongside emails. For example, somebody who received a message from a friend or family member discussing foreign vacation plans might see an ad for travel insurance.

Such scanning had previously attracted harsh criticism and even legal action. Google had always defended it by saying the process was completely automated, meaning no human being was reading emails. (Source: bloomberg.com)

Malware Scans Will Continue

The new policy is not a complete end to scanning, however. Google will continue to scan messages and attachments to try to pick up any malware or attempts to scam people into visiting rogue websites or hand over personal details. It will also scan the content of messages to prepare a list of three suggested quick 'one tap' replies for mobile users, unless those users have switched that feature off. (Source: blog.google)

Neither is it an end to advertising appearing within Gmail, either. The ads will remain and will continue to be targeted based on other information Google has about the users such as their current location, their Google search history and websites they've recently visit if they use the Chrome browser.

What's Your Opinion?

Is Google right to ditch the scanning for ad purposes? If you use Gmail, do you notice the ads at all? If so, do you find them relevant or obtrusive?

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Comments

Dennis Faas's picture

Don't be fooled by this as being a good will gesture. If Google was making money hand over fist by scanning its emails and delivering 'ads that make sense' (as it once did), then they wouldn't simply drop the program altogether. The real reason why they aren't doing this is because they are using using remarketing and geo-targeting for advertisements to replace those 'ads that make sense'.

Remarketing comes in the form of: when you visit a website such as Amazon.com and search for something, Amazon makes note of it, then passes on the info to Google and friends, where they take that information and remarket it by displaying banners about that product (or similar products) on just about every website you visit, even if it's not Amazon.

Geo-targeting comes in the form of: having a cell phone, visiting places, and having your GPS "location" turned on the phone. If you're using an Android phone, Google records this information, then shares / sells that info with third parties. Before you know it, you have Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) advertisements being displayed when - you guessed it - you just visited the store yesterday!

Those 'ads that make sense' - which were previously based on content alone - are a thing of the past, and started getting phased out as far back as 2011 or so. I know that for a fact, because that is when my Google Adsense income took a major dive. That was also around the same time the PC industry starting dying at an astonishing rate in favor of cell phones. And here you have it - geo-targeting and remarketing are suddenly all the rage.

matt_2058's picture

It's sad that a person has to pretty much become a hermit and live off grid to have privacy. You're tracked by way of a cell phone. You're tracked online. You're recorded in every store. You're on camera at almost every intersection. Your TV spies on you.

The problem I have with data collection is that many times the person's identity is shared with entities that person did not specifically do business with.