Google highlights email scanning practices in terms of service update

Google highlights email scanning practices in terms of service update

Summary: Google comes clean in its new terms of use that it does, as most people already know, scan email to personalise ads.


Google has refreshed its terms of service, explicitly stating for the first time that it scans the contents of users' emails to target them with tailored advertising.

The clarification in its terms follow recent legal challenges to Google over its handling of email and Microsoft's recent Scroogled campaign, which draws attention to Google's email-scanning practices.

Google's terms, updated on Monday, state: "Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored."

Google's previous update in November 2013 outlined that it may use Google Account holders' profile names, photos, and actions, to help with displaying ads and for other commercial purposes.

"We want our policies to be simple and easy for users to understand. These changes will give people even greater clarity and are based on feedback we've received over the last few months," a Google spokesperson told ZDNet in a statement.

Last month, US District Judge Lucy Koh knocked back a class action claim that attempted to combine a number of separate complaints, filed earlier, that accused Google of breaching US wiretap laws over its email content scanning. The plaintiffs were also prevented from pursuing the class action again in future.

While the ruling was a major win for Google, last year Koh rejected the company's argument that all email users implicitly consented to interception because of "the way that email operates".

Microsoft has honed in Google's email scanning to mark the differences between Gmail and Outlook as the Redmond company attempts to bring back users to its webmail service.

In March, the UK's advertising watchdog rejected two complaints that Microsoft's Scroogled radio ad campaign was misleading. In the ad, Microsoft claimed it didn't scan email, even though it does do so in order to detect malware and spam. 

The challenge was defeated on the grounds that it could be understood in the ad that Microsoft was only referring to scanning in the context of advertising, whereas it was accepted and expected that companies would do protective scanning.

Read more on Google

Topics: Google, Microsoft, Privacy

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Nothing new there.

    They have said that since the entire existence of the service.

    Did you notice the key thing missing? They don't sell your information.
    • "Did you notice the key thing missing? They don't sell your information."

      How do you know? Because they explicitly didn't say so? Right.
      • Google never sell your information, ever.

        It's their lifeblood.
        They sell the ability to get relevant ads to the right people, but never actually sell your info.
        It all stays in house at Google.
    • You're being cute with your technicalities...

      Google scans people's data, in order to sell advertising. The advertising is TARGETED at people that might be a match for certain types or products and services. Those products and services are from companies that have a vested interest in Google's scanning. The people getting the advertising in their browsers, had their data "SOLD" to the advertisers, even if Google did the work for those advertisers. Google is the "front-man" that collects the data, and Google is also the middle-man that uses the customer's data, while the advertisers simply pay Google for proper ad placement. The advertisers might not directly get the data in their computers, but, Google is the agent acting in place of the advertisers. Google is doing the work for the advertisers, so, Google is IN FACT, selling the consumers' data to an end-client.

      There is no way of getting away from the fact that, Google is "selling" the data to it's business clients, even if indirectly.
  • FWIW, I don't see ads in Gmail

    except those the sender inerts (e.g. newletter subscriptions, I've invited myself) because of Adblock Plus, while Yahoo has worked to defeat the ad blocker. I'd also note Google's privacy dashboard controls are far more comprehensive than Yahoo's.

    Any uninvited advertiser who appears in my emails will never see any business from me even if its ad was triggered somehow by my shopping that kind of product, I'd sooner buy from a vendor with a swastika or hammer and sickle in its logo. I'd expect those email users who install ad blockers or set the service's privacy controls will feel the same way, and in fairness the prospective advertiser should be given the option by Google or Yahoo NOT to have their ads displayed to "opt out" users who will be offended rather than enticed by them.
    • Paid opt-out option

      If people are concerned about advertising, maybe there should be a paid opt-out model.
      As Google revenue is from advertising wanting everyone to opt-out should compensate.
      But most people want the free service with nothing in return.............
      • There are ways to "target" a customer without using the customer's data,

        and that is by, targeting the type of content that a person is interested in. So, if a customer is interested in finding shoes, advertising of a shoe store or shoe brand, could be strategically placed in the same page that the content is displayed; that way, the customer's data wasn't used or sold.

        It's the same way some (or a lot) advertising is done on TV and radio and newspapers and magazines. If the content on TV or radio or magazine/newspaper is about technology, perhaps a slew of ads about smartphones and tablets and computers might be appropriate.
        • It's basically the same

          The shoe store "knows" you were looking at it, the TV networks "knows" you were looking at that TV show, ... as Google knows you were looking at search results for "summer shoes".
          • There is a very huge difference...

            Google collects data about you and your browsing habits. That data is what gives them the ability to target a person directly.

            The TV network does NOT KNOW who you are AT ALL. Google knows who you are, and they know a lot about you if you are a subscriber to any of their services. The TV station just targets a complete market, but without any knowledge about specific viewers.

            I'm pretty sure you know the difference, but you feel you need to come to the defense of Google; that's what a fanatic does.
          • Google just do a better job at gathering info

            Microsoft knows when you log in into
            Cable TV networks based on demand content knows what you watch, when you rent a movie they know it also, .... The scale can be different in the end they are very similar.
            If I'm fanatic maybe you suffer from paranoia or afraid that someone find the "dead body" on your garden.
            Privacy is a choice, nobody mandates consumers to use Bing, yahoo, Google, smartphones, use siri or Google now...
            The paranoia around Google and others using people's info for terrible things is just silly till proof of those terrible potential acts is found.
            So far the enemy are hackers, spammers, bad made unsafe services/products, ... the enemy is not Microsoft, yahoo, Google, ...
          • Google is not better at gathering data; anybody can gather the same data.

            The only thing that Google does that the others don't, is to "sell" the data to the advertisers, even if Google itself is managing the data.

            Google's business model is to collect people's data and browsing habits, and then use it to enrich Google via advertising that targets the consumers who use Google's services.

            NO matter how you spin it, the TV stations don't use viewers' data to target them via online advertising, which is a lot more personally invasive. If a TV station, or ISP collects someone's data to sell him/her a movie, that's the only time that the user's data is targeted. If a user never accesses the ISP for another movie, his/her data isn't used for other targeting, like Google does.

            BTW, you're still a freaking Google fanatic, and it has nothing at all to do with me being paranoid. You reveal yourself to be a fanatic, when you jump through all kinds of hoops to defend your Google mothership.
  • I'm the always right "fanatic"

    You are the many times wrong and contradicting himself, or stating the obvious, impartial commenter that likes to call stupid to many :-)
    Resuming your mistakes:
    Obviously Google is better at collecting data - it's pointless to deny it - yes everybody can do it, but that's just a small part of the process. Google collects more and better data.
    Obviously TV networks collect data as possible - I've inside information, cable TV companies tries to collect as much information as possible, obviously open signal TV networks have a harder task, but even those do a lot of statistical and there are volunteers that install devices to collect data about there habits. Open signal TV is still big but not as it used to be in this part of the world.
    Microsoft also collects data, in their case they extend the data analysis to not just automated software but also humans as was recently found.
    Google is not trying to diversify business to increase income, Google diversify areas to sell more advertising - directly or indirectly.
    And you vision about Google business it's true but a banality without any deep thought.
    You are still making rude comments, you should really change that by politely give your opinion - as wrong as it can be - that's ok. You should keep your comments about facts and not trying to guess who pays me - do you want to bet you're once again wrong? ;-)
  • You are a fanatic, and absolutely insane about defending your Google


    The facts remain that, Google is stuck with advertising that is just showing minor growth.

    Collecting data on its users, is a task that is not that difficult, and any major, or even minor, operation can do it. Google is just collecting more of it,and datamining the hell out of it, to enrich themselves. The whole world understands Google's business plan when it comes to how they collect and datamine and use the data to enrich themselves; it's only you and a bunch of other Google shills who continue pretending that Google is doing great and doesn't do harm; meanwhile, the latest quarterly report shows the truth, and the truth shows a company with very little hope for growth in advertising. Perhaps they need to purchase Bing or Bing's customers from Microsoft, where they could try to increase their advertising dollars by perhaps 20%. Meanwhile, the truth is on paper and in the quarterly reports, and you continue being in denial. Don't worry; hold on to your Google stock, because, someday, perhaps in 20+ years, the Google self-driving cars might take off. ;)
    • I couldn't care less about Google socks :-P

      Another post of you based on comments about me - not important and boring for others.
      My personal investments are not important here.
      • and stocks