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Google is going to stop reading Gmail users’ emails so it can personalize our ads

A person accessing Gmail via their phone and laptop.
Aleksey Boldin/123rf
There’s a constant tension today between privacy concerns and the really cool things technology can do for us. It’s great that Microsoft Cortana, for example, can read our email and create reminders to do the things we promise, but that requires letting Microsoft have access to our email messages.

Some companies access our information for purposes that are less useful to us personally, like Google’s tendency to dig into the data stored on its servers to personalize the ads it shows us. The Gmail in Google’s G Suite solution aimed at business customers doesn’t do that — and the company made a welcome announcement Friday that its free consumer Gmail service won’t do so either starting later this year.

According to Google, Gmail is the world’s most popular email provider, with more than 1.2 billion users. Gmail is better at protecting its users from spam, hacking, and phishing attempts than any other email provider, Google says. It also offers helpful tools like Smart Reply to make managing email easier, more efficient, and faster.

However, Google clearly recognizes that the businesses that pay for its G Suite service are more reluctant to have their email messages mined for information to make ads more effective. More than 3 million companies pay for the G Suite product, and so that’s a significant constituency.

Starting later this year, Google is extending the same courtesy to its consumer customers, who don’t pay a fee. Once implemented, the change will mean that Gmail content will no longer be scanned to personalize ads, leaving it up to the user to determine how ads are shown. At the same time, G Suite will remain ad-free, which is no surprise given the paid nature of the service.

It will be interesting to see if more companies follow suit, as privacy concerns continue to grow and more people are pushing back against intrusions into their personal and professional data troves. Microsoft has focused on making privacy more transparent in Windows 10, and now Google is giving privacy some welcome attention in Gmail. Speaking of which, if you want to see how your information is being used by Google, you can go to and check things out for yourself.

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