Google Cloud Computing Chief Diane Greene said in a blog post on Friday that Google will stop scanning Gmail content for creating personalized ads. This move, due to happen later this year, is in line with Google’s enterprise offering, G Suite.
G Suite Gmail Already Not Used
Diane Greene has said that G Suite’s Gmail is already not used as input for ads personalization. G suite is Google’s set of (cloud based) intelligent apps (Gmail, Docs, Drive and Calendar) that is designed to help organizations to work collaboratively regardless of their physical location.
The announcement that Google will stop using the scanned content from Gmail outside of G Suite is significant because the Gmail service is estimated to have more than 1.2 billion users worldwide (compared to G Suite’s 3 million), and it should please privacy campaigners worldwide.
How Do Personalised Ads Work?
Personalised / targeted online adverts work by using a person’s browsing habits combined with other data collected from their online activities to display adverts that are more personalised or more likely to be relevant to that person’s likes and tastes, and may therefore be more successful. Advertisers claim that people look more positively on relevant adverts, and that their clients (the businesses buying the adverts) can make a better ROI using this method.
Privacy campaigners on the other hand object to too much monitoring and sharing and cross-referencing of a person’s data, and the fact that it can make the individual identifiable, and, therefore, could pose a security risk and / or give companies too much control.
It is common knowledge that Google has in fact been accessing its users ‘Gmail’ email service since its inception, to create the adverts which are shown to individual users with that email service.
Back in June last year, Google changed the way it tracks its users across the internet by combining users’ personally identifiable information from Gmail, YouTube and other accounts with their browsing records, despite previously pledging that these data sets would be kept separate to protect individuals’ privacy.
Users could opt-out of being tracked this way by visiting the activity controls section of their account page, and by then unticking the box marked “Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services”.
Not The Only Ones
Google is certainly not the only company to track users and use their history, activity and content to deliver targeted ads. Facebook, for example, tracks likes and shares, and many websites that we all visit share our activities with networks of third parties who share, collaborate, link and de-link personal information to generate target ads.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Businesses clearly need to be able to advertise their products and services in order to sell them, and online advertising can be an immediate and cost effective option, particularly if it is intelligently targeted.
Too much online advertising, however, can be very frustrating for web users because it can hinder access to content and waste time, plus, in times where cyber crime levels are high and GDPR is on the way, we all need to able to (and are being given more powers to) protect our personal data.
This move by Google is therefore likely to be broadly welcomed, and is likely to provide Google with some good PR, although there will still be other ways that Google will collect information about us online to keep tailoring advertisements. For example, this could still include data from the videos we watch on YouTube, and what we search for online and through Google Chrome (if we’re signed into our Google accounts). Google will also still be able to scan the contents of our emails for anti-spam, anti-phishing, malware detection services.
It is possible to check how Google targets its adverts by going to the "Ads settings" option within Gmail.