Google Is Reading Your Email, Find Out How, Why, and How to Stop It

Google will soon begin routinely scanning incoming e-mails for Gmail users to deliver targeted advertising content. Google’s goal is to create relevant and useful advertisements, and their e-mail scanning algorithm is getting an upgrade this week as Google hopes to better target the advertisements that users receive.

As of this week, Google will begin tracking what e-mails users open or Report as Spam in order to deliver targeted ads based on reading preferences, as explained by Google's Gmail Help Section announcing the change. For example, if users routinely open e-mails from a photography or digital camera enthusiast newsletter, Google will expect you to be interested in a deal from a local camera store.

According to Google, their ad scanning technology is fully automated and no personally identifiable information is stored or seen by humans. However, even if a ‘human’ doesn’t know everything contained in your emails, Google technology and its computers do, as they must now associate activity history with certain accounts, which are often attached to real names and, almost always, mobile phone numbers. Since many people use their Google account for services around the Web, including chat, photographs, and managing credit card payments, the fact that Google is automatically scanning email and attributing the content of incoming messages to certain users is scary for many, even if Google claims to keep no personally identifying information.

Gmail knows and tracks information about you and what's important to you from every message you send or receive, which it calls 'signals'. Google uses these signals to analyze your patterns of behavior and predict which of your incoming messages are important, and will also use those signals to target relevant ads to you (one's that you are more likely to click on and buy from):

To quote from Gmail directly, Gmail learns from:

  • Who you email (For example, if you email Bob a lot, it’s likely that messages from Bob are important.)
  • Which messages you open (Messages you open are likely more important than those you skip over.)
  • What keywords spark your interest (If you always read messages about soccer, a new message that contains those same soccer words is more likely to be important.)
  • Which messages you reply to (If you always reply to messages from your mom, messages she sends you are likely to be important.)
  • Your recent use of stars, archive and delete (Messages you star are probably more important than messages you archive without opening.)

Many users are concerned with the fact that other companies have been the target of computer break-ins that compromised millions of users’ personally identifying information, including this very sort of user data.
Other services, like Priority Inbox, show how Google’s mail sorting algorithms are already used to filter e-mails you might want to read to the top of your incoming mail. The new advertising algorithms will use the same signals to predict which ads you might want to read.

You can disable the automated Gmail ad targeting feature in the Gmail Settings page. Simply select Don’t use these signals to show ads, and Google promises to protect your privacy by not tracking what e-mails you open or mark as spam.

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3 Responses »

  1. how to disable gmail marking what is impt?

  2. Opting out of signalled ads does not work. I have opted out and still the ads accompany every email I open !

  3. I have opted out of having my email read and targeted for advertizing but see that I am still receiving google ads targeted based on the information in my emails. How do I turn this feature off permanently?

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