Is Gmail Not The First To Scan Emails?

By | May 4, 2004

(See this later posting for a response from MSN and Yahoo.)

Here’s possible evidence that Gmail is not alone in scanning your email in order to target ads at you.

MarketingVOX (‘The Voice of Online Marketing’) reports that “the strange mix of privacy advocates, anti-globalists and anti-commercial groups that seem to be swarming on Google in hopes of preventing the company from providing its new Gmail service might be surprised to find out that the other free email providers already do exactly what the groups seem to find offensive.”

It says that Yahoo Mail “allows for searching emails”, while Hotmail “appears to target ads based on message content”. MarketingVOX says its own investigation “revealed that different free email sites include different levels of interaction with message content”, although it did acknowledge that “since the testing was anecdotal, the email engines may be merely coincidentally providing relevant ads.” MarketingVOX was not successful in getting responses from the companies in question, although Yahoo pointed the reporter to the company’s privacy policy.

The colourful language aside, MarketingVOX raises an interesting possibility: That this kind of thing has been going on and we just didn’t know it. But does that make Gmail OK? I’d argue not. Just because it may have been happening doesn’t mean folk would find it acceptable. Indeed, there may be some legal questions lurking out there if it transpires some email providers have been scanning content to deliver ads.

It’s hard to imagine that Yahoo do scan emails because the wording of their privacy policy appears to expressly rule it out: “Yahoo!’s practice is not to use addressing information or the content of messages stored in your Yahoo! Mail account for marketing purposes.” I couldn’t find anything on Hotmail’s privacy policy. I’ll ping Yahoo and Hotmail and see what they say.

One thought on “Is Gmail Not The First To Scan Emails?

  1. Guillermo

    …yes, GMail is scanning our emails, and I do not care since I follow the rule of thumb for e-mails: never write on an email something you would not write down on a postcard.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.