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Is Gmail as invasive as Microsoft says?

Google’s Gmail is the most used email service in the world, but does it suffer privacy problems? That’s what Microsoft is claiming in a new internet advertising campaign called “Scroogle”.


The crux of Microsoft’s argument is that Gmail scans your email to deliver advertisements targeted by keywords found in your inbox – a process that could be seen as invasive. For example, if someone sent you an email about looking after their cats while on holiday, Gmail might show you advertisements for pet food and vacations.

Many Americans Microsoft surveyed in early February disagreed with the practice, with polls showing:

70% of Americans didn’t believe or didn’t know whether any major email service provider scanned the content of personal emails in order to target ads

  • 83% of Americans agree that email service providers scanning the content of your personal emails to target ads is an invasion of privacy
  • 88% of Americans disapprove of email service providers scanning the content of your personal emails in order to target ads (and 52% disapprove strongly)
  • 88% of email users believe that email service providers should allow users to “opt-out” if they prefer that the content of their emails not be scanned in order to target ad
  • 89% of Americans agree that email service providers should not be allowed to scan the content of personal emails in order to target ads

That’s bad news for Google, who use targeted ads as an impressive revenue source. But is the process really that much of an invasion of our privacy?

After all, it’s just automated computers that scan the email – not human beings. And the scanning itself is exactly the same process that junk mail filters – such as the one Microsoft uses in its and services – carry out. I’m not sure about you, but I think my SPAM filter is vitally important.

How to Stop the Scanning

 If you’re bothered by these targeted adds, there are numerous ways to “opt-out” from seeing them. You can choose to use the HTML version of Gmail; or use email software, such as Microsoft Outlook (for desktops) or Mail on the iPhone. These solutions are still almost certainly subject to Gmail’s email scanning, but at least you don’t have to see the results.

What do you think – are you bothered by the idea of Google “reading” your email?

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