Further to my post yesterday about whether other webmail providers are ahead of Gmail in scanning emails to target the user with ads, it would appear that they’re not.
Microsoft is unequivocal in saying Hotmail does not. A MSN spokesperson says:
Microsoft is deeply committed to protecting the privacy of users’ personal communications. MSN Hotmail does not use the subject or text body of customers’ emails for text-based targeted advertising. MSN Hotmail advertisements are based on demographic information the user provides when creating their Hotmail account, such as age, gender, language, zip code, and country.
Not exactly the detailed rebuttal of the original MarketingVOX piece I was looking for, so I went back to them, and they offered this: “Yahoo! does not use the content of email messages for marketing purposes.” A bit better, but I think to be absolutely sure we still need the word ‘scan’ in there somewhere. In the meantime, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, reading it to mean Yahoo does not scan the contents of messages and target ads at the user. A quick scan of two Yahoo accounts I have, one in the name of a male and one in the name of a female, would seem to confirm that Yahoo, like MSN, uses ”member details are used to better personalize” its services. (These are the member details you have to give when you register your account.)
Thus, my ‘male’ account gets lots of computer related stuff, while the female account, ‘belonging’ to a lady in the autumn of her life, gets ads asking whether she has diabetes, reminding her Mother’s Day is on its way and offering a free dinner for two at Applebee’s. These would appear to have nothing to do with the content of her inbox, since she too is more interested in gadgets and fast cars.
What GMail is doing is simply filtering for keywords on the assembled mail and if they are “saving” this to build TiVo-style advertising profiles then this could be problematic without receiving advance permission. I would definitely have a problem with that if there wasn’t an opt-out option.
They should consider offering a pay option with no ads and shut up the detractors for good. Those who don’t want the ads could then pay for it.