Google finally stops scanning your emails

What happened?

Google will stop reading your messages in Gmail to personalise its advertising, the company has confirmed. Previously, Google analysed the content of emails sent and received for behavioural advertising purposes – which is why a message about a holiday or wedding can suddenly spark a slew of very specific ads.

This change in policy is believed to be an attempt to appease corporate customers. Gmail is free for individuals, but companies pay for the webmail service as part of Google’s cloud-based collection of productivity tools, G Suite. Messages sent in corporate Gmail aren’t scanned for advertising, but some companies believed differently and weren’t happy about it. To avoid such confusion, Google has dropped email scanning for everyone.

How will it affect you?

If you’re a Gmail user, Google will not look at the content of your emails – you may be alarmed to learn that it had that power previously. However, that doesn’t mean behavioural advertising is being ditched, because Google will use personalisation data across its other services, based on your account settings.

If you want to turn off behavioural advertising, go to My Account (myaccount .google.com) and under ‘Personal info & privacy’, click Ads Settings. You can turn off advertising personalisation entirely, or select topics you’d like to see or prefer to avoid – and see Google’s guess at your gender and age, which is sometimes amusingly incorrect.

What do we think?

We’re amazed that the scanning of emails for advertising purposes has lasted as long as it has – if such a system was rolled out now, there’d be uproar! We’d either grown accustomed to the corporate giant reading our messages or failed to realise it was doing so. Admittedly, “read” only means a machine looking for keywords to serve ads, but it just shows how easy it is to give up our right to privacy. Hopefully, we won’t give in so easily next time.

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