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Opinion

Why Google is no longer data mining your emails

Google recently announced that it will stop scanning content in free Gmail accounts for ad personalisation purposes. This follows the launch of an ad-free experience in G suite, Google’s paid service.

It is a significant change, with 1.2 billion people using Google’s free Gmail service around the world. But what are the implications for retail advertisers? And why has Google decided to go down this route?

Gmail: Only one of many

If you read the announcement carefully, it only mentions that content from free Gmail accounts will no longer be scanned. But Gmail is just one of a large range of products offered by Google.

As shown below, if a user is logged into Google and using other services, such as YouTube, Chrome or Google Maps, they most likely are still being tracking by Google ad personalisation.

If a user is in possession of an Android smartphone, then by default they have an advertising ID assigned to them and various forms of advertising will be personalised based on the profile of their ID.

Even Google Drive, which not only contains a large amount of information about an individual but also entire organisations, is subject to mining by Google.

In summary, it appears that while deciding to stop data mining free Gmail accounts is a large step forward, in reality Google has no shortage of alternate data points in its ecosystem.

Implications for retailers

For retailers, there is an aspect of duality in the announcement.

As advertisers, retailers will have fewer data points to shape their digital ads going forward.

But as potential users of the free Gmail service themselves, retailers will see it as a welcome surprise. After all, nobody wants someone else snooping through their personal conversations.

Why did Google undertake such an action?

The question many people are asking is why did Google do it?

I can’t say for certain, but two reasons have been suggested that seem the most logical and likely.

  1. Google has enough information to target customers without needing to scan emails.
  2. Emails are considered highly personal and therefore a strong mandate for possible breaches in privacy against Google.

Whatever the cause, it was a big change in tack by Google, and if Google continues to gain market dominance, it is fairly certain this will not be the only move they make around customer data mining in respect to advertising policies.

Cheech Foo is an SEO expert and director of Ignite Search.

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