Google adds a paragraph to its Terms of Service to explain Gmail scanning for ads

Google's system of scanning the email content of its Gmail users, in order to generate targeted ads, has been controversial ever since the company launched the service just over 10 years ago. On Monday, Google added a paragraph in its Terms of Service that attempts to better explain how its software scans content from its users.

The new TOS document puts the new paragraph in the "Your Content in our Services" section. It states:

Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.

CNET reports that, according to a statement from a Google spokesperson, "Today's changes will give people even greater clarity and are based on feedback we've received over the last few months." However, that likely won't stop the complaints of many privacy advocates, who believe Google's Gmail scanning polices amount to illegal wiretapping of their users. Google's defense, at least so far, has been that Gmail users have to accept those kinds of features when they sign up to use the service.

Microsoft has attacked Gmail on a number of occasions, including a rather funny video released a few years ago called "Gmail Man" that parodies how a "real" Gmail mailman might go through a person's letters.

Source: Google via CNet | Gmail image via Shutterstock

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Microsoft rolls out latest Xbox One system update with many improvements

Next Story

In an attempt to improve web security, Google may begin favoring encrypted sites in searches

37 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

I had no idea the reason Microsoft wasted so much money on that stupid campaign was to get Google to put in a paragraph explaining what we already know!

If everyone already knew about it why did they bother, and what was all the feedback they supposedly had been receiving? The Scroogled campaign has done a good job informing some people at least about things they never knew. Now as to how these users choose to react to this information, that's a whole different thing altogether.

The problem with that add is that it's meant to confuse users thinking that there is an actual person looking at someone's email, which is not true. John Callaham says that the parody is funny, but since that time Gmail became the #1 email provider in the world. LOL...now that's funny.

Google make the fatal error of assuming that every time I send an email or browse to a website it's because I want to buy something. Because of this idiocy I now receive a constant stream of ads for the same small group of products - none of which I even remotely want to buy. Unlike the random factor I used to have browsing or reading magazines, it's no longer possible for me to "discover" new products. The truth is they've seriously screwed up the entire global advertising business.

Almost totally correct, and I will still go along with that just enough to not say anything to the contrary.

I'd really like to know just how many click an ad out of the blue just because Google, or ANY other website, THINKS that's what I'm interested in?

I have never clicked an ad on any website in my life including way back when I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing with a computer.

Not all ads prompt you to buy stuff. Some are informative. Some are political. Some are from charities and from religious institutions.

recursive said,
Not all ads prompt you to buy stuff. Some are informative. Some are political. Some are from charities and from religious institutions.
Major's point still stands. There has been research done on how targeted advertising makes it difficult to discover anything new outside what some service deems to be your circle of interests. So it's more than likely that you'll never see the informative or interesting stuff you're talking about if the bot decides the material doesn't fit into its model of the things you are interested in.

If you read carefully... You'll see Google also scans Received emails, meaning Non-google gmail, So if say I sent mail to xx@gmail.com the content of my email is scanned, stored becomes part of the recipients Targeted ad campaign against them

Google says they can do this because I chose to send an email to their domain (gmail.com), what in the heck

Outlook.com people, try it out

fobban said,
How do you think Outlook prevents spam?

Microsoft does scan the email for SPAM, but they don't retain or store keywords or other information.

Think.

Mobius Enigma said,

Microsoft does scan the email for SPAM, but they don't retain or store keywords or other information.

Think.


Wonder why I explicitly wrote "spam"...

Think.

fobban said,

Wonder why I explicitly wrote "spam"...

Think.

Yes, but Google isn't doing it just to prevent spam, is it?

Think again.

Before you slander things with "you get what you pay for", please carefully consider what you imply about the website you are currently posting at. Would you prefer a paywall? Your argument is horribly weak since a company can design very high quality services financed to a large extent with ads. There is no correlation between the business model and the actual service. BRB, gotta go listen to some songs among 20 million on Spotify legally and for free.

For something as important as mail I actually do prefer a paid service with a good SLA and no ads, or better still host it yourself if you can do so.

ambiance said,
Still not as bad as spying on an employee without a court order.

Wrong. Checking an employee's e-mail when given probable cause is not only legal, but prudent.

Now checking the e-mail of the person that employee is communicating with is questionable, but was still covered in the terms of service. And again, there was strong probable cause of illegal activity as well as terms of use violations.

In addition, these were targeted scans of people committing crimes and/or terms of use violations. These were not automated scans of every single user.

So it's okay to check millions of consumers personal emails for data mining and monetizing it, but it's not okay to investigate a serious criminal incident of their own employee using specific targeted scans? Get your mind out the gutter, ambiance.

ambiance said,
Still not as bad as spying on an employee without a court order.

Read your employee contract again. Every employer has the right to check what you are doing using their services.

ambiance said,
Still not as bad as spying on an employee without a court order.

I don't know if you've noticed, but a judge in Washington State can't issue a court order allowing a Delaware company to monitor the emails of a French citizen in Toulouse. Did you know that the word "moron" originally came from Toulouse?

ambiance said,
Still not as bad as spying on an employee without a court order.

are you an MS employee? no , so its none of your business. I am an MS employee? no, so its none of my concern

j2006 said,
So it's okay to check millions of consumers personal emails for data mining and monetizing it, but it's not okay to investigate a serious criminal incident of their own employee using specific targeted scans? Get your mind out the gutter, ambiance.

Yes, it's OK to monetize via data mining and both Google and Microsoft does it to improve the value of their Google Adwords vs Bing Ads. Ads with poor targetting is not of interest to advertisers. The users are made aware of the practice (the topic of this article) and if you dislike it, there are search services like DuckDuckGo. This is a major source of income for companies involved in search, where the profit is used to run other services or give you away services for free even if those sometimes don't have ads.

However, it is not up to privately owned organizations to perform criminal investigations on their own. This is why the police exists. Just report your suspicions, and fully cooperate with the police as they open the investigation. With the crime taking place on Microsoft's network, this should not be a complicated investigation to pull through with. But the reason it has to be done this way is to not have a legal team take the law in their own hands.

ambiance said,
Still not as bad as spying on an employee without a court order.

That guy wasnt a MS employee. If he was, then MS and any to her company hosting email has the right to view what their employees did. As it turned out, it was a former employee that MS spied on which needs a court order and evidently MS thought so to as they updated their policy right after.

I'd hoped to say touche instead of shaking my head to such a humourless bunch. What I should have said was neither Google nor Microsoft are innocent of questionable practices, so get off your high horse.

techbeck said,
As it turned out, it was a former employee that MS spied on
AFAIK he wasn't an ex-employee yet when the investigation was on, and was interviewed, admitted to his crime and was subsequently fired.

Scanning for malware is reasonable... but for advertising purposes and biased search results, that's still wrong and considered snooping. NO Thanks.... Nice try Google.

So you use DuckDuckGo? Bing also does this. The feature is often called "Personalized search" and the effect sometimes known as "the filter bubble".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personalized_search
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filter_bubble

Why do they do this? The better targetted searches are made to get you to stay on their search engines for a longer time (improving the service quality by giving you what you're likely to look for -- this is kind of controversial though, but it's the way it is) which will help them sell more ads with per-click Google Adwords or Bing Ads. And in the end... THAT will give you you, among other things, 7 GB free on OneDrive or cheap Google Drive subscriptions that outclass Dropbox. And we sure don't complain about this, do we... *sigh*

Malware scanning doesn't scan text and store it in a database or on a server.


Edited by ians18, Apr 15 2014, 4:20am :

No, but all mail services do store the mails in a database or on a server. Any big mail provider scanning mails (and which doesn't these days?) would need to both scan and store.

Yes let's please get rid of anti-spam, and anti-malware scanning, so that when idiots complain Google and laugh and say "You wanted us to stop scanning your mail".