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Here’s why it took Gmail 13 years to stop scanning your email to target ads

When Gmail debuted on April 1, 2004, one of its numerous innovations was the fact that it scanned the text of emails in order to target ads. Though that made the advertising more relevant, it also struck some people as an invasion of privacy, leading to lawsuits, snark from competitors, and a controversy that has … Continue reading “Here’s why it took Gmail 13 years to stop scanning your email to target ads”

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When Gmail debuted on April 1, 2004, one of its numerous innovations was the fact that it scanned the text of emails in order to target ads. Though that made the advertising more relevant, it also struck some people as an invasion of privacy, leading to lawsuits, snark from competitors, and a controversy that has dwindled but never quite disappeared.

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But now Google is dropping the use of email scanning for ad-targeting purposes. As Bloomberg‘s Mark Bergen reports, the decision was driven by Google Cloud chief Diane Greene—an increasingly influential figure within the company—and addresses the concerns of business customers who aren’t comfy with anyone (even a computer) nosing around in confidential communications.

The new policy also applies to the free consumer-oriented version of Gmail. But Google will still use what it knows about you to choose ads: It’s just that it will make decisions based on your searches and YouTube habits rather than the contents of your inbox.

Here’s the screen Google used to explain Gmail ads back in 2004: 

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About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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