Spreading awareness of Google’s Gmail privacy (or lack thereof) policies, Microsoft launched a new ad campaign to influence people to switch their e-mail service to theirs, Outlook.com. The truth is that Google scans every correspondence that passes through their Gmail system, filtering keywords, phrases and topics to flip relevant, personalized advertisements on it’s users. Outlook proudly refuses to utilize this practice.
For example, an e-mail sent to my brother about a favorite Bob Dylan bootleg brings up multiple advertisements for buying his concert tickets listed in my Gmail boarder or another; simply swapping quick e-mails about product reviews to post on GadgeTell with colleagues can arise ads for the very items discussed. It’s always a freaky sight and honestly, an annoying breach of privacy.
These are hardly ‘deep, dark secrets’ of mine but more personal subjects can be far too touchy and offensive to see these related types of ads. Some specific examples Outlook provides are “if you write a friend to let her know you are separating from your husband, Google sells ads against this information to divorce lawyers, who post ads alongside it.” Or “if you ask a friend for vacation suggestions, Google uses this information to target you with ads from travel agencies or airlines that want your business.” Messed up, right? And possibly the scariest part of this: Gmail users cannot opt out of this practice.
Coining the word ‘scroogled’ (“the new Google practice of selling their shopping results to a high bidder,”) Outlook.com launched Scroogled.com, where they published findings from their surveys, a few commercials depicting the issue in real-life situations, dubious quotes from Google’ representatives on the subject, even a ‘#scroogled’ hashtag.
“Emails are personal — and people feel that reading through their emails to sell ads is out of bounds,” said Stefan Weitz, senior director of Online Services at Microsoft. “We honor the privacy of our Outlook.com users, and we are concerned that Google violates that privacy every time an Outlook.com user exchanges messages with someone on Gmail. This campaign is as much about protecting Outlook.com users from Gmail as it is about making sure Gmail users know what Google’s doing.”
According to release from Microsoft, their commissioned GfK Roper study showed that 70-percent of consumers were unaware that major email providers routinely engage in the practice of reading through their personal email to sell ads. Not surprisingly, 89-percent of people surveyed feel that email service providers should not be allowed to scan the content of personal e-mails in order to target ads.
As technology and connectedness becomes even further commonplace and necessary, users must be adaptable and increasingly careful. Not sure about you but Google’s mail e-mail and shopping service are beginning to seem more like two-way telescreens that afflicted Winston Smith. And we all know how haunting that can be.