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Not Apr 1: Google stops scanning your Gmail to sling targeted ads at you

Anonymous Coward

Free tier Gmail closing in 3...2...

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1.. Never

Because as the article points out, Google have so many ways to gather data on you already. With 80% of the world using Android, with all its horrendous built-in data slurping, they don't need to read your emails, because they already know, well, everything.

I suspect that the data gathered from Android is probably much more useful anyway: with location awareness, adverts can be much more focused: passing a MacDonalds's: "Hey, two for one on burgers in MacDonalds's! Limited time offer, only whilst you're our b*tch! "

This, therefore, is simply a "Look at us, we're not evil anymore!" whilst still being as evil as an evil thing on an evil day in Evilsville, Evilsee. With an evil friend, evil cat, evil dog, and an evil cherry on top. A bit of sham to appear to be good to the masses. The ads will continue in the continuing free gmail, and the data will continue to be slurped.

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Anonymous Coward

Microsoft still scanning emails in hotmail and office365 however...

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Anonymous Coward

Agree, funny that MSFT is now doing all these things and more... and still making people pay for their legacy software.

I don't think any of this is evil (MSFT's blatant hypocrisy is, as usual, annoying). Stuff costs money. That money has to come from somewhere. You can always pay for email and no one will scan anything or show you ads. There is no such thing as a totally free service... although a few ads in the corner is pretty close to free.

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Anonymous Coward

Translation...

Translation: The is only so much data you need to gather to get the full picture.

After all, hard disks are charged per multiples of 1TB now, so storing vast amounts of data does have a price, a price for securing that data, where its value is no longer any benefit, given the data you already have.

If Google were ditching all analysis of Gmail accounts so far, it might be different, but they're not.

The postive spin they are attempting from this, is well "Evil", it's deceptive in how its being conveyed to the general public.

But, I might actually believe Google on this one.

I feel Google only (now) might be realising the dangers to their business model when the spotlight falls on them, might be (now) looking to backtrack, defining the boundaries of what is seen as private customer information that is "sacrosant" and Google generated statistical data from these probes, that Government would have automatic free access, under Theresa May's leglislation, for instance. No analysis data collected means Governments have no right of access to data that doesn't exist.

Or maybe it's the sheer number of people that go to all trouble of switching off every toggle in Google's Privacy Checkup - what amounts to 34 "tedious clicks" required to keep their data from being collected by Google. (Google have made this Privacy Checkup interface as tedious as they possibily could too to prevent that happening, again, pretty evil in my book),

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Flame

Re: 1.. Never

History shows that they may continue and then if found out, claim it's a mistake.

WiFi scanning during Streetview survey (replaced by Android anyway).

The only company I trust less *AND* have more destain for is Facebook.

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LDS
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They won't scan for ads personalization...

... but will they still scan for other needs of theirs? The blog don't say simply 'we won't scan mails anymore'. They could still scan for tasks like spam detection (without storing anything), or they could still scan to build relationship and other profile analysis tasks... all data that can still be resold beyond targeted ads (which probably after all don't work so well, and ads buyers too are beginning to understand)

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Stop

Re: 1.. Never

Never use Gurgle. They are not trustworthy. Do you really believe that they do not track you?

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Anonymous Coward

Microsoft still scanning emails in hotmail and office365 however..

Oh, Microsoft are doing something far more interesting. Quite a lot of the traffic that is ostensibly "hosted in Europe" is in reality piped via US resources. I guess that saves the NSA from installing data taps and provides Microsoft with a nice extra income.

Just check the IP addresses in the mail headers from organisations and even governments that made the mistake of trusting Microsoft. MaxMind geo-location is your friend.

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Re: Translation...

I've NEVER had an ad in gmail, and I don't use adblock or anything similar...

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and right on your desktop if you run Windows 10.

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Sil

Re: They won't scan for ads personalization...

I agree.

It clearly stops short of promising not to scan the emails.

They simply won't be scanned for advertising purposes.

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Sil

Not aware of any Office 365 email scanning, save for viruses and such.

Any sources to confirm it?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 1.. Never

I believe everything that Google, apple, Microsoft state in their privacy statement. Out of all of these Google's is not only the clearest, it's by no means the most invasive. That award goes to Microsoft. Apple are also happy to monitize your data, you might want to rear their privacy policy and see how many times advertising is mentioned...

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have more destain for is

I think you meant disdain is what you feel for them.

De Stain is what they are.

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Now they will only scan your Gmail for the NSA.

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Anonymous Coward

Cost

Google are probably doing this for cost, either

a) it costs too much to scan e-mails (relative to the benefit to google), or

b) the "goodwill" value in announcing this is worth it

But since most people probably aren't aware of the scanning, or don't care, or won't hear this announcement, then probably (a) ?

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Re: Cost

Probably no return on scanning 100 billion spam emails and emails of "look at this cool cat!"

Wait until the AI algorithms can filter out the spam and scan only the relevant emails?

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Re: Cost

If the AI could filter out the spam and know which emails are relevant, it would be useful for regular email!

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Facepalm

Re: Cost

Wait until the AI algorithms can filter out the spam...?

Without scanning it?

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Re: Cost

Scanning for spam detection and scanning for personal info for targeted ads are two different things.

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Re: Cost

Scanning for spam detection and scanning for personal info for targeted ads are two different things.

Not as different as you apparently think. They're both essentially contextual key phrase scans. To be effective, they both require the same type of processing, and if you're doing one, the incremental cost of doing the other is very close to zero.

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Re: Cost

Well sure, but that's the "the vendor is lying to us" conspiracy theory which is made by every anti-X hater, where X can equal Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.

If Google says they no longer scan emails for personal info to target ads after date 'X', they will still need to do the scanning for spam. Whether one chooses to believe them about no longer scanning for personal info is a different matter, but just like people who believe Microsoft builds in NSA backdoors to enable worldwide spying or Apple collects personal info just to be bastards even though they don't have any effective way to monetize it into ads says more about someone's biases than it does reality.

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LDS
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Re: Cost

While from a technical point of view the two processes are very much alike, there's a big difference between scanning for spam and storing only spam fingerprints, and scanning for user contents and store user data.

But let's remember Google settled for $500 million its own "online pharmacy" scandal - so probably Google can even monetize spam....

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I see what you did there.

.... Casually glossing over the fact that no one knew Google was reading their emails when they first made the choice between hotmail and gmail. Like anyone would have said "gee i don't much care for someone reading my email, but it's ok if i get more storage space!!!" GTFO.

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Re: I see what you did there.

Nope there was quite a bit of noise made about it when they launched.

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Re: I see what you did there.

Indeed, I was well aware of that in 2004 and it didn't bother me nearly as much as the NSA scanning everything. But over the next few years, Google became too powerful.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I see what you did there.

What? "Someone" reading your emails? Google never had any person reading any emails. An algorithm scanned the emails, billions of emails a day, for keywords to present relevant ads in the corner based on the keywords in email. Most people said "I don't care."

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Re: I see what you did there.

"gee i don't much care for someone reading my email..."

Ignoring Romney's "corporations are people too", Google aid none opened and read your mail as it was an automated system that scanned them. This was somehow accepted in court. And whaddya know, the NSA used the same argument in FISA court and since it had legal precedence then were allowed to store, scan and index every email in the world that they could get their Constitution breaking mitts on.

Thanks Google, how's that "do no evil" thing working out for us?

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Re: Most people said 'I don't care'.

I cared; not that they were scanning in order to produce "relevant" ads but because they were examining content in emails.

Collecting content from emails may, or may not, be appropriate for security services but is entirely inappropriate for an organisation that is quite simply in it for the money and only in it for the money.

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Re: Most people said 'I don't care'.

I really don't care whether Google reads my Gmail, because any email provider can read my email if they want to. No amount of complaining will change the fact that email is a crappy, old, insecure protocol. We need a standard E2E encrypted protocol to replace it.

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Strategic withdrawal followed by....

I'd be willing to bet that this just a simple strategic plan to get more users on Gmail. As published here on El Reg, response to Gmail has been less than stellar so this "no scanning, no ads" ploy might just get them more users. Once the magic threshold has been reached.... that policy will change.

I daresay, the old saying about "Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts" applies heavily in Google's case.

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Re: Strategic withdrawal followed by....

I don't think they care. I go along with those who think that they already get way more personal info from every Android user, and the little info they can collect on the small segment who has Gmail but not Android isn't worth bothering with - adds more noise than signal because of all the spam etc.

However, with Gmail no longer having value to Google, they probably won't want to devote any additional resources to it. Maybe they will even discontinue it in a few years, because "email is outdated in the age of social media".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Strategic withdrawal followed by....

"response to Gmail has been less than stellar"

Haha, what? Gmail has about 1.2 billion active users out of 3 billion people with any access to the internet on the planet. It is, by far, the most popular email service to ever exist in the history of email.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Strategic withdrawal followed by....

"with Gmail no longer having value to Google, they probably won't want to devote any additional resources to it. Maybe they will even discontinue it in a few years, because "email is outdated in the age of social media"."

In a word, no. I think it is a mix of the data they receive from email keyword scanning having marginal value at best and, possibly most importantly, they are pushing heavily into enterprise market with G Suite. MSFT makes a big to do about Gmail scanning on the consumer side. Even though that scanning doesn't exist in the corporate version of Gmail, never has, and MSFT scans emails for their own purposes. It probably just made sense to end the MSFT FUD tactics by just ending the practice.

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Black Helicopters

Legal Liability out weighs the value.

There is some issues with this.

If Google is scanning the mail, then they have some legal liabilities.

Imagine if a terrorist used gmail to communicate in "code" of an impending terrorist strike.

Or even if it was in plain text.

If Google intercepted and scanned the email... and failed to act.... what would you say their chances of surviving a civil lawsuit? Or be able to turn down a subpoena request from Uncle Sam?

So much more, but you get the idea.

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Re: Legal Liability out weighs the value.

Sure, but the liability would depend one what Google tried to sell them - post a suspicious message and start getting adverts for ammunition, flak jackets and apps to securely erase all data from your phone? There could be a bit of liability there but Google would probably skate on the defense that the adverts were algorithmic ...

When it comes down to liability there's always an excuse - that's what you retain lawyers for.

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Anonymous Coward

Instead of gmail Ads I guess this is much more powerful

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/05/24/google_to_track_credit_cards/

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Anonymous Coward

Lets not forget

This wasn't just about Gmail account holders...It was anyone who wrote to anyone with a Gmail account. They got slurped, packed and racked too INTO Google's All-Seeing-Eye...

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Anonymous Coward

What happens to past data already slurped?

There wasn't a clear option in Dashboard / Activity to delete data that was harvested by Gmail Ads... Anyway, here's the alleged option to halt Credit Card slurp, but presumably the slurping still happily continues 'in the background':

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-40027706

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Spamfilter to be crippled too?

Gmail's spam filter is pretty good, I guess in part at least because they get to read a huge number of emails and spot patterns. Is that about to get crappier?

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Re: Spamfilter to be crippled too?

You mean the one they got by buying Postini? The one that became worse once Google got their hands on it? That one? It's OK, but they made some needless changes that then made it harder to integrate, and harder to use. And a paid for, unscanned anti spam service became just as paid for but with added scanning for ad data mining.

I doubt this change will alter the spam filtering aspects of their service. It's a completely different scanning process (not looking for key words, just looking for commonality between emails, and specific patterns in binaries, etc.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Spamfilter to be crippled too?

You mean the one they got by buying Postini?

Yeah, they wrecked that. I was actually damn good before they got their hands on it, I had my office in the same block as these guys so we frequently ran into each other, and they knew what they were doing. Basically, Google did a Microsoft on the competition there :(.

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Hmmm, that old saying is still true...

"If you're not paying for the service, you're not the customer, you're the product."

Even in the days before Android I considered Google to be the new version of the Trojan Horse. But like millions of others I had already gleefully latched onto Gmail waaay back when it was a brand new beta service offering ever increasing amounts of free email storage and featuring a great user interface. Since I'm also a longtime Android 'product', Google definitely has the keys to my kingdom. And that's a pretty scary thought. Luckily, nothing sinister has resulted, but the future? How much longer before Alphabet's insatiably growing appetite for greed overcomes self-restraint?

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Re: Hmmm, that old saying is still true...

How much longer before Alphabet's insatiably growing appetite for greed overcomes self-restraint?

What restraint?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hmmm, that old saying is still true...

"How much longer before Alphabet's insatiably growing appetite for greed overcomes self-restraint?"

And what? They use more data to serve you (cue horror music)... even more relevant ads.

As you said, nothing bad has ever happened despite your use of many Google services. There isn't some plan to ship people to a black site... they're trying to serve more relevant ads so you might see something you want to buy instead of still seeing ads but for stuff you likely don't want to buy.

Also, people never consider the benefits of this system. El Reg is sponsored by DoubleClick ads. You could be paying $5 a month if you wanted to see this content. Likewise for every other site you visit. Email could cost you a few dollars a month too, but it doesn't because of the ads. You could be paying $99 for a copy of Android. Everything you do online would have a paywall before you could access it. In other words, without ads, the internet as people know it would not exist.

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Bronze badge

Re: Hmmm, that old saying is still true...

Lots of businesses use their customers' property, banks invest the money entrusted to them, my garage test drives my car as well as servicing it, there are well established laws and regulations covering these activities. The laws and regulations are based on common standards of morality and decency. New industries based on new technologies are less well covered by existing ways of maintaining reasonable behaviour.

The question is who defines the new laws and regulations - if it is the industry and the lobbyists or those trying to extend common standards of morality and decency to new technology.

The problem with Google is that it thinks that it should decide how things are done - which is the perfect recipe for future abuses. OK, they would probably just stay the same tedious, money mad geeks that they are now, but everything is there for them to be a menace.

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Anonymous Coward

Why now? ... To catch up to Microsoft and Amazon

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-23/google-will-stop-reading-your-emails-for-gmail-ads

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

- Google is stopping one of the most controversial advertising formats: ads inside Gmail that scan users’ email contents. The decision didn’t come from Google’s ad team, but from its cloud unit, which is angling to sign up more corporate customers.

- Paying Gmail users never received the email-scanning ads like the free version of the program, but some business customers were confused by the distinction and its privacy implications. What we’re going to do is make it unambiguous.

- Ads will continue to appear inside the free version of Gmail, as promoted messages. But instead of scanning a user’s email, the ads will now be targeted with other personal information Google already pulls from sources such as search and YouTube.

- Ads based on scanned email messages drew lawsuits and some of the most strident criticism the company faced in its early years, but offered marketers a much more targeted way to reach consumers.

- Greene’s ability to limit ads, Google’s lifeblood, shows her growing clout at the company. Since her arrival in late 2015, Google has poured investments into its cloud-computing and business software tools to catch up to Microsoft and Amazon.com Inc.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why now? ... To catch up to Microsoft and Amazon

Exactly... I think it is a cloud based decision. Google never scanned paying customers' Gmail accounts or placed ads, so it was never an issue in the first place... but MSFT's main argument as to why you should keep paying more for Outlook/Exchange rather than use corp Gmail in G Suite, when most of the users prefer Gmail (use it in their personal lives), is to make vague statements about email scanning and so forth... FUD tactics. Google is just trying to take that off the table by removing all scanning from Gmail on the consumer side.

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Not especially impressed. Either they're getting the data other ways or there's something even sneakier been implemented.

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