On its face, Google’s announcement that it will no longer be scanning Gmail inboxes to serve up more tightly targeted ads looks like a big win for privacy advocates. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll realize that the move is mostly smoke and mirrors designed to ease the concerns of Enterprise clients who are on the fence about using G-Suite.
Google found itself in hot water a few years ago when they began the practice of scanning the contents of the inboxes of their massive user base in order to better target advertising to each individual account holder.
Of course, advertising is accepted as a necessary evil when using free email services, but prior to the change, the ads weren’t nearly as well-targeted as they are today.
Unfortunately, the move had a side effect that Google did not intend. A great many businesses that may have had an interest in using G-Suite steered clear of it, fearing that the search engine giant might be secretly scanning their business communications. According to the company, they never have.
In an effort to lure more businesses into the fold, Google has recently announced that it will stop scanning Gmail inboxes to help them target ads. But given how much search traffic the company is responsible for and their reach into the darkest corners of the internet, it’s doubtful that their ad targeting efforts will suffer much because of it.
All in all then, while the move looks good on paper, the bottom line is that Google already knows nearly everything about most people anyway, and scanning email inboxes isn’t likely to improve their targeting, except at the margins.
Net gain for privacy advocates, then, is negligible at best. They seem to know it, which is why so few of them had kind things to say about the recent change.