Google Plans to Stop Scanning Users’ Emails for Ad Targeting

Changes are coming later in 2017

Google said it plans to stop analyzing users' messages for personalized ad targeting. Google
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Google is going to finally stop reading your email–sort of.

The email giant is planning to stop scanning the messages of its 1.2 billion users, which it has in the past used as a way of providing more accurate ad targeting based on each individual user’s interests and behavior.

In a blog post published today, Google Cloud svp Diane Greene said the company plans to stop using the free consumer version of Gmail for ad personalization. The move follows a similar policy that it already has for G Suite, the more costly enterprise version of the email software that’s now used by more than 3 million companies. The changes will take place later this year.

“Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change,” Greene wrote. “This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products. Ads shown are based on users’ settings. Users can change those settings at any time, including disabling ads personalization.”

The practice has received criticism in the past, and has even been related to privacy lawsuits against the company. It’s also not the only company that’s taken these tactics. Last year Yahoo settled a lawsuit related to its own email-scanning for advertising purposes.

Abolishing email-scanning makes sense, according to Scott Linzer, vp of owned media at iCrossing. Linzer said the move could help remove any confusion by consumers regarding where Gmail scans messages and where it doesn’t. And while scanning email is one of the many ways Google collects information about its billions of users, it wasn’t necessarily useful for every client. For example, he said message targeting for performance-based clients “paled in comparison” to intent-based opportunities within paid search.

“An example we have used is that if an email includes the words ‘golf clubs’ does not show the intent of the email, someone may be speaking about their golf clubs (irons, wedges, etc.) to play a game of golf,” he said. “Or they may be writing about golf clubs where they can play a game.”

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.