One of Google’s most controversial practices over the years has been the automated scanning of email contents. Google used that data to target ads inside Gmail, which it places at the top of the list in your social and promotions tabs. Google now says it will end the practice of targeting ads based on email text, but the decision was not made by the Gmail or advertising teams. It comes from Google’s cloud unit, which is responsible for selling G Suite business subscriptions.
G Suite, or Apps for Work as it used to be known, costs $5 or $10 per month for each user, but larger customers can contact Google for enterprise pricing. G Suite includes additional storage beyond the free 15GB that everyone gets, more security tools, and support for the usual list of Google cloud services like Gmail and Drive.
It’s interesting that Google Cloud was able to affect a change in the way Gmail ads are handled. Diane Greene, Google’s SVP of cloud, says this change was made to offer a more consistent experience across paid and free versions of Gmail. G Suite has doubled its paying users in the last year, so Google seems happy to let Greene make some big calls.
While the free version of Gmail has done automated email scanning for advertising purpose since its inception, that has never been the case in G Suite. If you pay Google for Gmail and other tools, you don’t get those ads in the first place. This change is supposed to put everyone’s mind at ease, even business customers that aren’t affected.
So, now no one will see ads based on their email contents. But free users of Gmail will still get ads. Google says it can use data culled from other sources to target ads in a similar ways. After all, many Google users are sharing purchase, location, and personal preferences data with Google. That wasn’t the case 13 years ago when Gmail launched.
There’s another catch, too. Google’s servers will still parse the content of your emails, but it’s not going to use that data for ads. Instead, that data will be channeled into user-facing features like Google’s smart replies and the Google Feed. For example, getting an email with package tracking details will produce a card in the Google app that lets you easily track your package. All that will still work, so you don’t have to take your tinfoil hat completely off yet.
You can expect Google to stop scanning your emails for advertising purposes later this year.
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