When Google first launched Gmail on April 1st, 2004, many people thought it was an April Fools’ joke. The company best known for its search engine was offering 1GB of email storage at a time when competitors offered just a few megabytes.
But Google had a strategy: the company would automatically scan your email messages in order to display relevant advertising. Privacy advocates were not pleased… but that didn’t stop more than a billion users from signing up for Gmail.
13 years later, Google has announced that later this year it will to stop scanning email for ad personalization.
The company will continue to show ads in the Gmail user interface, but they’ll be “based on users’ settings.”
Google says the move away from email scanning brings Gmail advertising more in line with the way ads are managed in other Google apps and services.
That means you can opt out of ad personalization altogether, or if you opt in you can choose from a list of “topics you like” and “topics you don’t like” ranging from “Air Travel” to “Xbox.”
While these topics aren’t selected from automatic scans of your inbox, they are based on your behavior: Google comes up with categories based on things like your Google searches and interactions with YouTube videos.
Paying G Suite customers continue to get an ad-free experience.
Oh, and one thing to keep in mind: while Google isn’t scanning your email for advertising purposes anymore, the company is still scanning your email for other reasons. That’s how it can apply filters, automatically detect spam, and enable features such as smart replies or adding upcoming travel plans to your Google Calendar.