In your previous news letter you answered some questions related to Quarantine in anti virus and another one about FTP.
When I opened your newsletter in my inbox (gmail-free account), on the right
hand side I could see lots of advertisements related to anti virus and FTP
tools etc. How do they come if Google doesn’t read my email content? what about
Ads are, of course, one of the prices you pay for your use of a free service
like Google’s Gmail. Naturally, it’s in Google’s best interest to show you the
most interesting, and relevant ads possible. In fact, it’s kind of in your best
So yes, to do that Google does read your email. But Google doesn’t really
read your email.
I know that’s a tad confusing and I’ll try and sort it out.
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Your Email Provider Can See All
It’s important to realize that your email provider – any email provider –
can see your email. Unless you’ve somehow encrypted it the full text and
contents of any email you send or receive could be viewed by your email
provider – be it your ISP, Google, Hotmail or some other service.
That’s simply the way email works, and always has. (The same’s actually true
for instant messaging and texting as well.)
The key thing to realize is that given the massive amounts of email that are
sent every day, your mail provider just doesn’t have the time to pay attention
to all that email.
To put it more bluntly: you’re just not that interesting. Sure, they could
read your email, but why would they? Unless you’ve got law enforcement watching
you for some reason, there’s just no reason that anyone would care.
So, no, it’s highly unlikely that anyone but you or your recipient is paying
attention to the contents of your email.
If you’re truly concerned and have something that you must keep private even
from the infinitesimal chance your email provider might peek, then you probably
shouldn’t be using free services, and you should seriously consider encrypting
your email – even though email encryption remains very difficult in any general
So, what then about those incredibly well targeted ads you’re seeing when
you read your email?
If you’re reading this article on my web site, then it’s pretty much the
same as the Google ads that are shown along side this text. The software that
selects the ads reads the contents of the page looking for relevant keywords to
get a sense of what the page is about, and then tries to display ads that are
targeted at or near that same topic.
I’ve often joked that the Google ads on Ask Leo! are often so well targeted
that they are an answer for some people. (They’re still ads, don’t get
me wrong, but sometimes they’re amazingly well targeted.)
That’s all that happens when you read you email in Google’s web interface.
The ad serving software looks at your email – you can call it “reading your
email” if you like – and tries to identify via relevant keywords what the email
message is about. It then uses those keywords to pull ads from its inventory of
available ads that are semi related.
That’s absolutely why when you are reading an email all about, say, FTP, the
ads along side might well be from various FTP related vendors and for FTP
related tools and services.
It’s A Good Thing, Really
Advertising to support free services is a very real and practical necessity.
Ask Leo! itself would not exist in its present form without advertising
revenue. None of the other approaches to revenue that people sometimes suggest
– such as donations – would come anywhere close. This is one of the reasons
that wholesale ad-blockers – tools that block ads on all sites – make me very
uncomfortable; they are blocking the very thing that allows sites like Ask Leo!
and the majority of the internet to be free to everyone.
Gmail’s and other free email services are no different – they’re ad
So, given that you will see ads, which is more useful: ads that are
completely random and have absolutely no interest to you, or ads that actually
relate to the things you do, see and talk about every day?
Naturally, I’d claim the latter.
Don’t Like It? Alternatives
Aside from simply ignoring the ads, which most people probably do, there’s
really only one way to avoid contextual advertising in your email:
- Don’t use the service.
For that matter, it’s the right solution to avoiding contextual advertising
– or advertising in general – if that’s you’re desire. If you don’t want to see
ads, then don’t visit sites that are advertising supported and don’t use
services that are advertising supported.
For Gmail specifically there is one additional alternative:
- Use a desktop email client rather than the web email interface.
Gmail supports POP3 access to your email which allows you to download the
email to your PC and view it there. There are no ads when you do this. It’s
only the web interface to Gmail that has advertising.
Just make sure, as always, that you’re backing up your PC and email whether
you download or not.