SAN FRANCISCO — Google will stop reading your email to target ads, a practice which has been widely criticized by privacy watchdogs and industry competitors and even prompted some consumers to file lawsuits.
Since 2004, when Google first introduced the popular email service, Google has had machines scan the words and contents of Gmail messages to show related ads, giving marketers a finely targeted way to reach consumers.
Starting later this year, Gmail users will no longer have their correspondence scanned, the Internet giant said Friday.
That does not mean Google will stop showing ads in Gmail. Instead, it will rely on other indicators of what ads will appeal to its 1.2 billion Gmail users.
The decision came from Google’s cloud and business software unit which is looking to attract more corporate customers to its offerings, called G Suite, that compete with Microsoft.
Google says the move brings the free Gmail service in line with the paid version of the service that it peddles to businesses.
That version does not have any ads and Google says business emails are not scanned.
“G Suite customers and free consumer Gmail users can remain confident that Google will keep privacy and security paramount as we continue to innovate,” Diane Greene, Google’s senior vice president of cloud, said in a blog post.
Apple and Microsoft have both assailed Google for the practice. Microsoft even ran campaigns: “Your email is nobody else’s business.
But Google makes it their business. … Even if you’re not a Gmail user, Google still goes through your personal email sent to Gmail and uses the content to sell ads.”
The sharp criticism did not diminish the soaring popularity of Gmail which is now the world’s largest email service. It did, however, confuse and concern business customers who did not want their correspondence scanned by Google, Greene told Bloomberg. “What we’re going to do is make it unambiguous,” she said.
The concession on the consumer front shows how important the cloud computing and enterprise software businesses are to Google, which is investing heavily in both.