Google will no longer scan your emails to steer the ads it shows youa longstanding controversial practice that you may not have even been aware the company was doing.
The surprise announcement seems to be an effort to appease paying users of Google’s office email software. The search giant has never shown those customers ads or skimmed their emails as it does with its free Gmail service, but some were confused about that point, according to Google Cloud SVP Diane Greene.
“This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products,” Greene wrote in a blog post.
Users of free Gmail will still see ads in the form of promoted messages, but they will only be targeted based on data Google’s collected on you through other avenues, like search history and YouTube activity. Given Google’s massive reach, the company no doubt has more than enough information with which to personalize ads without digging through inboxes.
The move comes as Google is investing heavily in cloud computing and its G-Suite software packagewhich includes enterprise Gmailin a bid to catch up with companies like Microsoft and Amazon. That this announcement came from the company’s cloud department rather than its ads people suggests that customer privacy concerns may have been making it harder to enlist new corporate customers on this front.
Google has used the contents of user emails to direct ads since just after Gmail’s inception, and it expanded its intake to encompass entire inboxes in 2011. The program has drawn criticism from consumer advocacy groups as well as multiple lawsuits.
Google doesn’t break out a standalone revenue figure for Gmail, but historically, it’s never been a huge moneymaker. Rather, the free tier’s primary business purpose has been to bait customers into its more lucrative enterprise platforms. That means the priorities of the latter arm come first.
Thankfully, Google still lets you disable personalized ads through its settings tab.