If you use one of Google’s many services then you’ve probably come to the realization that the tech company has a lot of your personal information and data, which it uses to sell ads. Now, after years of debate on whether or not it’s okay for Google to read users’ private emails, the tech giant says it will stop scanning Gmail messages, but only for the purpose of personalizing ads.
In a blog post today Google announced that it would bring its consumer Gmail service more in line with its “G Suite” service for businesses. In doing so, the company says that, starting at some point later this year, Gmail content will no longer be used or scanned for any ad personalization.
“This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products,” Google said.
With the change, ads shown in Gmail will be based on users’ settings, and users can change this setting or disable ad personalization at any time.
But just because Google won’t be scanning your emails to target ads, doesn’t mean it will stop scanning them altogether, as the company’s smart reply feature relies on such data.
Google’s tendency to scan users’ emails isn’t new; the company has come under fire for the practice several times.
Back in 2013, consumers filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, claiming it “unlawfully opens up, reads, and acquires the content of people’s private email messages.”
Google argued that it was only scanning the emails to help sell ads, noting that “all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing.” Additionally, the company claimed that it was just targeting works in messages in a fully automated process, meaning no humans actually read the emails.
In 2014, the company changed some of its Gmail scanning policies, saying it would stop indexing students’ messages for the purpose of serving up more relevant ads to them elsewhere on the Internet. The change was part of the company’s Google Apps for Education (GAFE).
Despite this, in Feb. 2016 a group of current and former college students sued the Internet giant for the snooping that did occur for years on the Gmail accounts provided by their university.
More recently, in March, a judge rejected Google’s proposed settlement in a class-action lawsuit with non-Gmail users who sued because their emails to Gmail users were being intercepted and scanned for the purposes of providing targeted advertising to the recipient.
The lawsuit [PDF], filed in 2015 by a San Francisco man, alleged that Google violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act by “intercepting, reading, and analyzing the content of private email messages” without permission.
The judge in the case rejected the settlement, saying it didn’t go far enough in requiring proper disclosures from Google about this invasive practice.