Gmail is free, in part because Google has always scanned the contents of users’ inboxes in order to serve targeted ads. It’s a sleazy business model, but Google certainly isn’t alone: Most other free email services (and, hi, social media platforms) do the same thing.
But Google has finally decided to end the practice of scanning emails for advertising, according to a blog post published Friday by Google Cloud senior vice president Diane Greene.
The search giant’s stated reason for the change is simple: Google Cloud sells a collection of enterprise office products, called GSuite, and Greene told Bloomberg that paying customers were concerned that Google was mining their data for advertising. Even though Google has only scanned the emails of free Gmail accounts (and not those belonging to paying customers) the change needed to be made in order to promote trust.
“Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change,” wrote Greene in the blog post. “G Suite customers and free consumer Gmail users can remain confident that Google will keep privacy and security paramount as we continue to innovate.”
This doesn’t mean ads are disappearing from Gmail altogether—free users will still see ads that are personalized based on data from Search and YouTube. Google also offers its users the choice to opt out of this personalization.
The change is a signal that Google might not need to rely so heavily on advertising dollars as it commercializes some of its products, like GSuite. It also erases one of the arguments against giving users a way to easily and seamlessly encrypt their email—something Google and other free email providers have resisted because it would prohibit them from scanning messages for profit.