Google said it will soon stop reading the emails of its standard free Gmail account users to personalize their ads, a move that addresses a longstanding privacy concern about a practice that Google has embraced since the company introduced Gmail in 2004. Google says it’s changing course so it’s free Gmail service operates more like the subscription version that it has sold to more than 3 million companies. What does that mean for the standard user?
What does this recent decision by Google mean for anyone with a standard free email account?
In the past, to help finance their free Gmail service, as a trade-off Google has been reading their users email and then showing ads connected to the information in their email. Someone who gets or sends an email that talked about running for instance, might see ads for Nike sneakers.
Now, Google still plans to show ads within Gmail. But instead of scanning through email content, the company’s servers will rely on other methods to determine which ads are most likely to appeal to each of its 1.2 billion Gmail users.
You have to keep in mind that the paid or business version of Gmail doesn’t include ads, so the company has never tried to scan the content of those users’ emails for marketing purposes. Yet some business customers have been vocal saying that it felt like Google was scanning business accounts as well.
Will Google still monitor its users to compile ad data?
Yes they will only they will now rely on other means. Gmail now ranks as the world’s largest email service, an indication that most people didn’t care about Google’s scanning methods. Both Microsoft and Apple have publicly frowned on Google for having the nerve to mine users’ emails for ad sales, even though it didn’t undercut Gmail’s popularity.
Even with the change, free Gmail users will still see ads above their emails, but those ads will just be personalized from the other data Google collects about their users who are logged into and using its services, including their location, internet searches and web and YouTube history. Still, losing data from email correspondence is likely to weaken Google’s profiles of users, which enable the company to charge advertisers more to target specific groups of consumers. That said, Google appears to be betting that reassuring its lucrative corporate customers that their emails are safe is worth the trade-off.
If billions of Gmail users seemed to be ok with what Google was doing in the past why is Google changing their policy now?
Well, it looks like the practice has made it difficult for Google to find and retain corporate clients for its cloud services. This is due to general confusion over Google’s business tactics and an overall apprehension to trust the company with sensitive data.
It seems like this move might be to convince more companies to rely on Google’s suite of online services and to move more data off competitors’ services and onto Google’s cloud. It seems like it has been a bit of an uphill battle for Google, as both Microsoft and Amazon have emerged as two of market leaders in providing cloud services, with Amazon primarily providing hosting and Microsoft providing corporate productivity services. Now, Google hopes it can bring more customers on board by convincing them that its practices won’t jeopardize corporate privacy and in the end it just means that free Gmail users will now have more email privacy.