It’s been a long-standing practice of Google to scan Gmail messages of users to find out what interests them so the ads served can be better targeted at user preferences. But most people have felt this to be an overly intrusive practice. Google is finally letting its Gmail users know that their emails won’t be scanned and analyzed for the purpose of matching ads to user preference.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Google won’t read your emails. It just means they won’t read them for the purpose of ad personalization.
Why is Google Making this Announcement?
It’s been nearly two years since Diane Greene took over Google’s cloud business, but not many people are aware that she’s also in charge of all cloud-related assets, such as Gmail for Business that’s part of G Suite, Google’s answer to Microsoft’s Office 365.
During that period – and even before that – Google has been struggling to be relevant to business users, and this scanning of emails for the purpose of ad personalization was one of the impediments for client signups. To be clear, Google does not do this for corporate accounts, only personal ones. However, Google’s policies have been of major concern for businesses that want to keep their emails private.
That’s the biggest reason Google is going to stop scanning emails for the purpose of ad personalization.
The problem is, Greene did not say that they’ll stop scanning emails. They’ve merely said that they’ll stop doing it for this particular purpose. Nowhere in the blog does it say that Google will no longer scan user emails.
“G Suite’s Gmail is already not used as input for ads personalization, and Google has decided to follow suit later this year in our free consumer Gmail service,” Green wrote in today’s blog post. “Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change. This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products.” – The Verge
So the question remains: will Google continue to scan messages for other purposes, such as security? That’s very doubtful, since document and email scanning is vital for the purpose of alerting the user of malicious links or attachments within emails.
Does this solve the privacy problem? Not necessarily. Businesses are still going to be wary of Google reading their emails, even if it’s being done for the purpose of maintaining tight security.
The problem here is that if Google does stop analyzing all emails, it could put the user at a much greater risk from phishing scams, malicious links, infected attachments and so on.
Microsoft scans emails on Outlook as well, but to analyze mails for spam and security risks rather than ad targeting. The twist here is this: the scanning process is much the same no matter the purpose. It’s all done by algorithms, not a bunch of Google and Microsoft employees that were voyeurs in another life.
How much of a positive impact Diane Greene’s announcement will have on the G Suite business remains to be seen. The larger problem is that Google, more than Microsoft, is the target of suspicion when it comes to user privacy. Not that Microsoft doesn’t get its fair share of finger-pointing vide Windows, but Google’s dominance in the search and browser markets naturally make it a bigger target.
Our Gmail and Outlook emails are going to continue to be scanned. That much is true. We cannot avoid it, unless we’re willing to compromise on security. Companies like Google and Microsoft are caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s either invading our privacy or opening us up to malicious hacker attacks. Not much of a choice, right?