back to article Google explains 'why' ads target user's Gmail

Google has begun telling users of its Gmail service exactly why it is serving up specific ads that creepily refer to the content detailed in individual email correspondence. "Our advertising system is designed to show the right ad to the right person at the right time," said the world's largest ad broker in a blog post penned by …

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Big Brother

Content inspection?

In the UK it is illegal to inspect the contents of packets, although it is perfectly legal to carry out Deep Packet Inspection to determine the 'nature' of the data. It's highly unlikely, though (if not impossible) to glean any information on the content of an email simply from its TCP headers. How, then, does Google manage to target ads based on email contents, if they are unable to see those contents? Sounds decidedly dodgy to me, and I suspect their latest announcement is meant to head off criticism rather than actually alay fears.

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Boffin

These ads are on Google's own services.

They don't need to touch any network traffic at all, they have all the data that is relevant on their servers.

GJC

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Anonymous Coward

There are plenty of tools designed specifically to determine if mails are infected, spam, or even if the body contains a keyword that is a valid password for an encrypted attachment - none of those are illegal in the UK and are widely used.

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they gave up the right

Their fans including the 3 downvoted your post have gave up all their privacy rights for free mail. Don't waste your bytes.

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Gold badge

Nothing dodgy to see, move along..

Maybe you don't use the service, or never bother to read what you agree to - it's in the conditions that you allow Google to scan your email. They promise it's "automated", as in "we trust the programmer to be decent about keyword use" but to me, the real kicker is in their terms & conditions where they hep themselves to perpetual rights to whatever you place on Google services (google.com/accounts/TOS, chapter 11).

The only sensible advice with using Google or any other large provider is to only give them content that you don't want a group of your worst enemies to see..

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Anonymous Coward

Firefox and AdBlock Plus

'nuff said.

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FAIL

not 'nuff said...

That's like saying "I've got crabs, but so long as they don't bite I don't care" (I don't have crabs, btw). Blocking the ads using AdBlock Plus and Firefox doesn't stop their googlyesque inspection of your emails... Google's new motto should be "All your emails are belong to us"

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Anonymous Coward

IMAP any any mail client

Or just use IMAP to get your mail, and any reasonable email client that supports it.

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WTF?

@His Glennogginess ... HUH?

Dude!

Where have you been?

Google has been saying that for *YEARS*!

(Actually its 'All of your data that you store on our servers belongs to us...')

Sorry but I give you the 'WTF?' for stating something that many of us have known for years.

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Anonymous Coward

But, but, but..

Wasn't it "we own your a*se"? No? Dang.

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Anonymous Coward

Can't wait for them to start putting ads on IMAP e-mail (I never use the web interface), so I can finally justify kicking the whole thing.

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Anonymous Coward

Creepy is right...

...this is alarming. I await Googles weasel words or divertion tactics worthwith.

Mind you, I'm equally creeped out by iMessages on IOS...

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Gold badge

Ditto WahtsUp - the price for that service is your privacy as all your "sms" replacement traffic now flows over a US provider.

But I cannot see why Google would need weaseling. It's not like they keep keyword scanning a secret, it's in their T&Cs..

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Megaphone

...opt out of being fed ads from certain advertisers.

All advertisers, thank you.

I have so far found no site which is supported by adverts which I can't live without. Advertising is not a valid method of funding web services, once it goes beyond the generic and into the specifically targeted based on context. Those sites I *need* I am quite happy to pay a small amount for, and I pay for my own domains and associated email services for real mail.

Apart from anything else, it's bloody pointless: I use my gmail account almost exclusively as a login account for my local pizza delivery. Better than 90% of the mails on it are from the same pizza place. The supplied adverts offer me - you guessed it - adverts for other major pizza franchises. Which had I wished to patronise, I would have purchased from.

Mind you, an odd email about oil drilling recently rather confused the system...

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Anonymous Coward

"Advertising is not a valid method of funding web services..."

Sure it is - they are making money off it, so it's perfectly valid for them, no?

"...once it goes beyond the generic and into the specifically targeted based on context."

So you think random ads are preferable to those *possibly* of interest to the topic being discussed is better?

And how does it affect the ad methods' "validity" by being contextual?

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Um...hello

"I have so far found no site which is supported by adverts which I can't live without."

Byebye El Reg, then?!

The creepiest adverts I've come across lately are those by Criteo - you look at products X and Y on some shopping site, then later on that day you are reading the Guardian website or whatever and a load of products similar to X and Y are shown in a flash banner for the shopping site you were on earlier.

Definitely one to be wary of if you actually are browsing for Christmas presents etc on a shared PC...

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Stop

@ Tom Wood

Maybe you should log out of of any sites that requires a signon. Quite a few sites (such as Google) continue to track you unless you sign out.

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Anonymous Coward

@Zippy

Has it occurred to you that it's pretty likely they can and will track you regardless of whether you 'log out'?

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Anonymous Coward

Christmas presents...

tell me about it, My wife's PC shows up a link to "gentlemans ball scratcher", although this is an accessory I have never felt an essential purchase at least it'll be a change from another bloody shirt. I suppose the time to worry is if I don't get one for Christmas

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FAIL

Personally...

If I am going to see adverts, then I would rather they be relevant...

Did people really think they were getting loads of gigabytes of free mail storage for nothing? If they want to skim my email for keywords to show me adverts I will be blocking with Opera's AdBlock, go ahead, be my guest....

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Anonymous Coward

What makes me laugh...

is when I go to the spam folder and I get an ad for.

Spam Vegetable Strudel - Bake 20 minutes or until golden, serve with soy sauce

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I have a screen shot of my Spam folder with an ad for "Spam Quiche - makes 4 servings" at the top.

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Unhappy

What has me worried...

...is for the last three months I keep getting ads for cancer research and cancer treatment. Does Google know something about me my doctor does not and they are just not sharing?

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Coat

Astrological

Were you perhaps born between June 21st and July 22nd?

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WTF?

Freetards

Who do you think pays for the bandwidth, storage and development of gmail & co? So you're happy with the free and excellent e-mail (before gmail arrived, NOT ONE provider offered such a usable and extensive webmail package), but not so with them using the data to serve you targeted ads? You're always free to set up your own server...

And I don't care if some algorithm analyses my data so that Google can show better targeted ads, thus allowing it to get more money from these ads. As long as it is only an algorithm, and the analysis and data stay at Google. Which is what the audits are about.

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Thumb Down

Who owns the "content"

Looking at Google's terms of service, I'm not surprised. It seems that you give away your rights for all content you put in (e.g. emails you write and send) but Google' recognise they have no rights over stuff inbound to you.

Can't use inbound (but if they do it's your problem to notice and act accordingly):

9.4 Other than the limited license set forth in Section 11, Google acknowledges and agrees that it obtains no right, title or interest from you (or your licensors) under these Terms in or to any Content that you submit, post, transmit or display on, or through, the Services, including any intellectual property rights which subsist in that Content (whether those rights happen to be registered or not, and wherever in the world those rights may exist). Unless you have agreed otherwise in writing with Google, you agree that you are responsible for protecting and enforcing those rights and that Google has no obligation to do so on your behalf.

But you give away outbound:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

So that's why I don't use it!

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Anonymous Coward

sigh.

It's neither creepy, nor alarming, nor illegal. It's completely expected. Why? Because it is, or at least was when I last read them years ago, in the gmail T&Cs that Google will scan the content of your email. It's also exactly why I don't use gmail and, ever since then, pretty much the exact reason why I try, where possible to avoid anything to do with Google.

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Anonymous Coward

Not just Gmail

Yahoo does the same thing, Its even quite prominently displayed in the T&C's that they will scan your mail. Bit naive to expect anything else from a free (ad funded) email service from any provider.

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FAIL

What have you got to hide?

I mean does Google really care your auntie went to butlins on holiday?

Only someone with something to hide, would have something to fear....

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Stop

@LD50

Not to me they don't, I'm still using classic mail and still not clicking on the 'update' button. Let's see what happens on the 7th of November.

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Anonymous Coward

"Only someone with something to hide, would have something to fear...."

http://www.computerweekly.com/blogs/the-data-trust-blog/2009/02/debunking-a-myth-if-you-have-n.html

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Simples

I've had my Gmail account since you needed an invite to get one back in the day. I will no longer use it. Problem solved.

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Coat

Prawn

Use of the word "Simples" indicates that you, Sir, are a Prawnus Maximus..

I've had a gmail account since 'before' you needed an invite. I read, and fully understood, the terms & conditions at the time, I will carry on using it. No problem to solve.

My grasp of logic is not sufficient to allow me to understand your mindset: It's provided free, there's no "hidden" T&C's, it's actually a great service ~for free~ and all you have to put up with are a few adverts, assuming you use the web client. (tip: use IMAP)

Bah.

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WTF?

Umm

I was under the impression that most ISPs provide an e-mail function as part of their package. Therefore I fail to see why most people would need a free e-mail service at all?

Ok, so if you don't have your own computer and internet connection and don't want to pay for an e-mail service (even though it is crucially important to your life) then it would be useful - but surely Google would be the last people you would expect to respect your privacy!

I can access my ISP e-mail using a variety of methods; spam filtering is included; I even have an unlimited number of e-mail addresses so I can just make them up as desired for different uses.

For a short time I downgraded the account to a free dial-up so I could retain my address even though I wasn't paying for broadband.

There are anonymous e-mail services for those things you wouldn't want to band your real address about for.

On a slightly different note, if there's one thing that makes a business look unprofessional it's paying to have business cards made or company vehicles emblazoned with some crappy personal e-mail address when it costs £4 to register a domain name.

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ISP free email

Yes most ISPs do provide free email but to them:

It's a cost centre not a revenue generator, a black hole for them to pour money into.

If you move ISP you lose the email address (maybe after a period of grace). That means you've got to change all those places where you registered and they use it as your contact address, and your personal contacts. For me that list is in the hundreds.

If there's an outage, its a free service so not imperative to fix urgently. Real life examples abound.

The spam filters are notoriously poor, the worst issue being false positives, mail you want being treated as spam. If you're lucky its in a spam folder so you stand a chance of recovering it but it may just be trashed or bounced.

Are any ISP email accounts as feature rich and versatile as Gmail? None I've seen come close.

BTW I believe my ISP provides free email accounts that are in fact gmail but with the branding changed, I guess they pay google a few quid a year per user and that's cheaper than trying to maintain a system themselves.

I use gmail with my own domain name, the adverts are not intrusive and if they want to read my christmas round-robin email, great, none of the intended recipients give a damn about it. If I were concerned about confidentiality of a message I'd use encryption, if I had significant volumes of confidential email then a commercial email provider or my own mailserver too. But if GCHQ want to read my messages I'm sure they'll have little difficulty intercepting them whatever I do.

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Anonymous Coward

i use gmail and have turned off all tracking cookies with various addons in firefox, I also use Tor which is nice, but honestly the only reason i use gmail is the space, & spam filter, and besides arent all web mail providers the same with tracking/targeting you, like yahoo for example are probably just as bad, and hotmail has the worsed spam filter ever, so where to go?

i used to use hotmail at the start, then dumped it for yahoo, then dumped that for gmail, so if anyone has suggestions, im open to all :)

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Meh

I find that ad's in general advertise shit I already have :\

I always find that adverts, advertise shit I already have, pointless for both parties. There are times I don't get such ad's and then I get something so unrelated and irelavant that it beggers belief that I'd even click the ad, let alone go any further.

I honestly can't think of the last time a AD caught my attention for me to click-thru to learn more. Now incentive based ad's on products I use would be useful but there again I'm already using said products so it would be even more of a waste marketing wise. Loyalty based retention and the like would seem a better return for companies than most advertising and let those that use the products use word of mouth.

But for new products that you havn;t heard about then adverts have there use's, but only the once and then it has to catch you at the right time. The option to click an ad with the "not now poke me later on in the month" option would be nice as we all see something that we want, don't have the money at hand and then forget about it once we have the money. Of course that means we don't realy need it but there again thats what adverts are for in many ways, selling the non-essentuals in life.

Only certianty I can say about any ad is that I boycott anything has anything to do with facebook, why - I have my reasons and there good enough for me.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm not one to leap the defence of Google much, but I don't see the problem here. The machine that is serving up your email so you can view it is also using the text to display an advert. It's not like there's a dude sitting there reading your email. And they tell you they are doing it, so if you don't like it then you can go elsewhere.

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Pirate

I need to click more ads

Why shouldn't the sites I like get more revenue.

(I won't read them, just click them as I move the mouse pointer towards the close box before I exit the session).

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Anonymous Coward

Yahoo! Too!

They're not the only ones. Yesterday I was Yahoo! messaging! (via the web interface) a friend, and during the conversations ads kept popping up relating to the text I was inputting. When I mentioned "you on drugs???" up popped an ad for "Ask Frank" etc. So looks to me like they are all monitoring everything you do via their services. Logging the lot of it, then serving you ads based upon it, and finally, selling it to the highest bidder.

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I've had a link near the ads in my gmail for some time which leads to the following url: http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=6603

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Anonymous Coward

Sorry google

I only use gmail (or any email really) via a mail client, so no ads.

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