Problems With The Ex/Kids/Chicken? Gmail Knows

Just how intrusive are the contextual ads in Gmail?

Not a new question, I know, but there are some stories appearing that seem to belie Google’s claims that emails would not be mined for more sensitive subjects. Take the following examples I received from one friend:

Emailing a friend about a chicken dish she’d just prepared, half a dozen ads for chicken recipes immediately appeared. Not particularly scary, but a bit off-putting, and a sign of just how many advertisers are out there and how specific they are. But, when writing to a friend about her ex-boyfriend, and how she worries her child still talks about him a lot, she encountered the following ads alongside her email exchange:

Get Your Ex Back
Get a powerful plan for restoring your relationship with your ex. $24

I Used to Miss Him
But My Aim is Improving: Not Your Ordinary Breakup Survival Guide

Related Pages
Meet my … Boston Globe – Aug 29, 2004
Partner? Spouse? Lover? Husband? Wife? Companion? Significant other? …

How Can I Help My Child Deal With a Breakup?
Recovering from a breakup is not easy. If your child has gone …

As my friend says, “This is too damn scary. Going back to Yahoo.” I agree. I think Google has to draw a line here somewhere: Firstly, contextual ads should not be so clever that they know what you’re cooking that night (or if they are, they shouldn’t be so dang literal about offering to spice it up) and secondly, and most importantly, there has got to be a broader definition of what is considered intrusive. Figuring out from what you write that (a) you’ve broken up, (b) you have kids and (c) there might be a problem related to (a) and (b) is way too creepy to be helpful. Google should immediately drop any contextual ads that deal with such issues unless users specifically approve of them.

Then, of course, there’s the issue about where this information is stored. Already a deeply detailed profile of my friend has been built up in the week she had Gmail; what would happen over a year? And how is that information stored, shared and combined? We need to know more.

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