Google will stop scanning the content of emails sent by Gmail users in an attempt to reassure business customers of the confidentiality of their communications.
The company did read the emails in personal Gmail accounts in order to target users with personalised adverts but said in a blogpost it would stop doing so in order to “more closely align” its business and consumer products. Its business offering, part of G Suite, has never involved scanning emails.
“G Suite’s Gmail is already not used as input for ads personalisation,” wrote Diane Greene, the senior vice president in charge of Google Cloud. “Google has decided to follow suit later this year in our free consumer Gmail service. Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalisation after this change.”
Although G Suite customers, who pay Google for business use of a portfolio of web apps including Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar and Contacts, have never had their messages scanned for use in advertising, many potential customers were nonetheless put off the product by the mistaken impression that they were, Greene told Bloomberg. “What we’re going to do is make it unambiguous,” she said.
G Suite will still scan emails for other features. Security scans, common to both the consumer and business products, will continue to pick up spam, hacking and phishing attempts, while features like Gmail’s “Smart Reply” – which offers suggested replies to messages based on previous emails – will be available for administrators to enable in G Suite.
The change in advertising policies on Gmail shows the growing degree to which Google values its enterprise customers. Greene’s remit covers not only G Suite, but also the company’s cloud computing platforms, which are directly competing against rival Amazon’s attempts to position Amazon Web Services as the core infrastructure of the internet.
Removing email scanning for ad personalisation doesn’t mean the free version of Gmail will go ad-free, however. The company will continue to advertise on the service, but the adverts will now be targeted in the same way as other Google services, based on information gleaned from other activity on users’ profiles, such as their searches, browsing activity, and even physical locations.
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