The complaints against Google’s GMail and its use of AdWords Contextual Advertising to show text ads targeted to actual email content may have driven Google to reconsider the advertising format used to fund the 1 GB of storage space used in the new Google free email service.
Yesterday, California State Senator Liz Figueroa sent a letter to Google, urging them to discard a plan to scan customer emails for content, and insert ads related to the subject matter of the private conversations. The letter was the first step in drafting legislation that would prevent Google or any other company from examining the content of email in order to serve relevant advertising.
Google spokesman David Krane told CNet yesterday said that “Google plans to listen closely to the responses of test users and other interested parties during a three- to six-month test period.” Krane added that Google may make changes based on the recommendations it receives, but it hasn’t yet made any definitive decisions.
“We are in the very earliest phases of testing, and we are actively soliciting and analyzing feedback from users and third parties, including privacy groups,” Krane told CNet. “We’re definitely batting about a number of options for changes to the service, but we have not yet made any specific commitments or announcements about changes to come to Gmail.” Krane added that “The reaction so far has been very favorable from people who have tested and used it.”
When asked if it would be economical for Google to offer the GMail email with the 1 GB of storage without the content targeted advertising, Krane gave a “no comment.” Obviously there are other options for Google in this case, serving behavioral and gender specific text advertising, however, such practices may be shunned upon by Google’s advertisers since the targeting would not be as sharp as content targeted ads.
Additionally, Google has weighed the option of having GMail users opt-in for AdWords advertisements. Google President and co-founder Sergey Brin told the Wall Street Journal that Google “will not make any ‘rash changes’ to the email service which is still being tested by thousands of users.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Brin also commented on the idea of letting Gmail users opt in or out of the targeted ad service was an idea that “is being batted about. We certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”
In addition to potential Californian legislation there have been some other news making protests of Google’s plans for GMail advertising. On April 6, the World Privacy Forum and 27 other privacy and civil liberties organizations composed an open letter calling upon Google to suspend its Gmail service until the privacy issues are adequately addressed. Also last week, Privacy International urged Britain’s information commissioner to take action against the service, heating up privacy advocates in the EU.
Google’s David Krane also highlighted the privacy enhancements of GMail over some other email services such as GMail does not automatically display images in email (reducing tracking technology and virus threats). Fury.com also points out that when compared to Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, Google Gmail requires the least personal info.
Hotmail and Yahoo both require that users handover their First Name, Last Name, Zip Code (which determines state, town, and country), Gender, Occupation, Birthdate, and serves choices to opt-in to advertisements and sponsors. Google GMail only requires that users enter a First and Last Name in order to use their service.