Are You Really Getting Scroogled? Some Facts About Email Scanning

Have you heard about the ways Google users are getting “scroogled?” If you haven’t, come out from under that rock and let’s talk about the newest marketing campaign from Microsoft about privacy concerns with Gmail. Using ls, tls, tcommericals, texted based ads, and an online petition, the Washington based company is saying Google violates users privacy by using the content found in their email to sell targeted ads.

Google has been using an ad based pay model in its email since 2004. While it was initially met with some outcry, it hasn’t prevented the search giant from becoming a hugely popular service. Independent numbers, placed Gmail as surpassing both Microsoft and Yahoo in user numbers in late 2012.

10 years later, Microsoft is using that practice to make way for its newly rebranded email service, Outlook.com. The marketing campaign has been described as alarmist, but there are some facts buried in there and it’s worth taking a second look.

Google Doesn’t Read Your Emails

ComScore put Gmail at over 288 million unique users at the end of 2012. If each one of them only received or sent three emails a day, that would be nearly a billion emails to be read for details. Asking humans to physically read your emails would be both cost prohibitive and ridiculously slow. While it’s true that Gmail is completely ad supported, saying the company “reads” your emails is misleading.


Instead, Google uses complex algorithms and servers that scan your email for keywords. Then it shows you ads based on those keywords. So if you email a lot about cooking, you will see ads related to that. That’s it. Google doesn’t sell the contents of your email, show it to third parties, or make it available within its search engine.

Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo All Scan Your Email

The fact that Microsoft is leaving out of its marketing campaign is that scanning email for keywords is a common practice is the email industry. Each time an email fails to make it past your email provider’s spam filter it’s because your provider scanned the email for certain features that are common with junk email. Even Microsoft does it.

Using user information for ads is also very common in the tech industry. Many free Internet apps follow the ad supported model. Take the social media behemoth Facebook, for example. The ads you see on the right side of your screen are based on the information you put in your profile and your activities on the site. Post a lot about your new Shih Tzu puppy and you will see tons of ads about dogs, pets, and Shih Tzus. Microsoft does that when you use Bing to search the Internet.

Essentially, Microsoft isn’t saying ads are wrong. They use email ads as a revenue source. The ads it shows in your email are based on the demographics information you provide when you sign up for the service, such as your age, professional, and location. It’s not even saying reading your email is wrong. It does so every time it checks out an incoming piece of mail for phishing or junk. Microsoft is basically saying that reading your email to make better ads is wrong.

You Can Opt Out if You Want to

Since all email providers scan your email for security reasons, the main issue here is whether Gmail should use that information to serve ads to you. If you think that it shouldn’t, you have two choices. First, you could opt out of those ads. Log into the Google Ad Preferences page to change which ads you want to see or to opt out of contextual based ads completely. You’ll still see ads, of course, just as you do with all web based email providers. They just won’t be based on the content of your emails.

Or you could try out Microsoft’s newest email product, Outlook.com. The new email branding is modern and cool. It has also integrated several new features, including a Skype integration. There are some downsides, including No IMAP integration, but overall it’s a much better email product than Microsoft has had in many, many years.

But it doesn’t look like many users are making the migration. Sources show as a little as .02 percent of Gmail users have made the leap from Gmail to Outlook.com. If they think they’re being “scroogled,” they must like it.


 Matt Thames is blogger for Selby Acoustics.  He enjoys sharing internet and technology tips and information.


Comments (7)

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    Matt Cutts must read this.

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    They are using it from a long time, to show better ads and also for marking important emails by reading the words, but all are done with bots not by humans, its impossible for Google to read each and every email manually…
    Microsoft did a stupid thing by challenging Google.. 😛
    Nishant Srivastava recently posted…Google April Fool Day’s Prank 2013 Google Nose BetaMy Profile

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    People make such a fuss about privacy, when most people don’t have anything in their emails worth really caring about. Sometimes I think people feel themselves and make themselves more important than they really are. Not being rude, but why would Google want to sit and sift through each individual’s email?

    And when Google was sifting through email to make search easier, no one complained. At least, not enough to be newsworthy. It’s just that ads aren’t convenient, so more people object.

    Thanks for sharing. Great site you’ve got here.

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    hmm.. it is a matter to be thinked about and you Presented it well.Thanks

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    Well, if I am not wrong, most frequent Gmail users are blind to Gmail ads or they have addons like ABP installed to get rid of such ads. Also, Gmail has got key things which make it hard to leave Gmail and migrate to other providers.
    Btw, thanks for sharing this information.
    Rajesh recently posted…How to auto save passwords in Firefox without confirmationMy Profile

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    I know of quality content when I see one and I must this is indeed a cool blog that I would like to visit frequently to learn more stuff from an expert in this subject. Knowledge they say is power.

    I like what I’ve read so far on this blog. Hope to see more of you.

    Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing

  • Avatar

    The stats that .02 percent of Gmail users have been switched to Outlook really tells the truth that people are so addicted to Gmail due to the useful features or they are unknown or don’t care about the email scanning. As all the email providers are scanning the emails, so we have nothing to do with this.
    Mihir recently posted…What is Archive in GmailMy Profile


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