Google announced yesterday plans to stop scanning users' Gmail inboxes for advertising purposes, a decision that in theory should improve users' privacy, but in reality, it does not.
For years, Google has shown ads inside Gmail. While in the beginning, these were random advertisements, as Google got better at its job it launched a new program that used machine learning to scan people's emails, classify the user in various categories, and show targeted ads inside Gmail based on the user's email content.
The program was very controversial and brought a lot of negative publicity to the company, but users couldn't do anything about it since it was bundled with the terms of service of Google's insanely popular (and free) Gmail service.
When Google launched on-demand Gmail inboxes for companies, this controversial program wasn't included, mainly because this would have caused a lot of compliance issues, but also because Google decided not to show any ads at all inside business email inboxes, offered through the company's G Suite service plan.
On Friday, Google's SVP of Google Cloud, Diane Greene, said the same policy for Gmail business customers would be extended to users of free Gmail accounts.
"Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change," Greene said. "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. G Suite will continue to be ad free."
While Greene didn't specifically mention it in her blog post, Google has many other sources for profiling its users, such as it's many web apps and mobile applications.
These various data streams provide the company with far more detailed information on its users that the Gmail inbox scanning program could ever gather.
As many privacy experts have voiced their opinion on social media, a reason why Google is taking this action is to eliminate any bad press about Gmail privacy. Google most likely believes that the inbox scanning scandal from a few years back has prevented many companies from adopting G Suite, fearing their emails would be scanned, even if in reality they weren't. Despite being two different services, most companies look at G Suite as a paid version of Gmail, and many most likely believe Google would be scanning their inboxes.
Currently, over 1.2 billion users use Gmail, while Google boasts with over 3 million businesses who use its enterprise offering G Suite.