Saturday, February 17, 2007

Gmail ads (paca)

I got a gmail account a few months back so that I could use its chat function to speak with my former classmate, now in Seoul, about our projects. It's worked just fine for that, and so I am pleased with gmail on that basis.

However, today I noticed the normal old Google ads next to my Inbox and actually read them. Lo and behold they are all about Korean, language learning, and the like. This means that their ad software is actively scanning my emails and using it do deliver content-relevant ads to me.

I'm not sure that's OK with me.

I realize that everyone says that email should be treated like a postcard, but the truth is that that isn't how people actually use email anymore. They actually use it like mail. And I'm not positive I want a 3rd party scanning it and using it to query a database. I assume there is privacy protection built in so that the program only pulls content and doesn't log my email address as the recipient, but I don't really know. Unless the program scans anew everytime, then they are keeping some sort of profile. A profile with a randomized ID? I dont know. (but I'm sure I could look up if not so lazy).

Anyone else use gmail and have you noticed this? What do you think? Do other free email programs do the same thing? I just looked at my paca yahoo account and those ads look entirely generic.



bunnygirl said...

The yahoo ads are definitely generic. They never advertise anything I want!

Tom said...


This was a pretty big news item when Gmail first launched. It's certainly understandable that late comers to Gmail may have missed the whole "targeted ads" questions. Google has prepared a help section to answer exactly these questions:

The points in the link most relevant to your questions are:

1) All services scan text of email for thinks like viruses and spamming; Google simply takes that scanned data an uses it for targeted ads, while other services do not.

2) The ads are automatically computer generated each time a message is open; no humans are involved.

3) No "email specific" statistics are generated for the advertisers; it's all rolled into the broader google-wide database. So no one (outside of Google, presumably) knows specifically which ads appear in your email.

Me, personally, I don't much care. I think the Google product is a great one that I can use freely because I allow these ads. And, like bunnygirl intimated, I'm actually more likely to see relevant ads than ones for, say, viagra.