Google has a funny little blog post today on the Gmail Blog. Apparently, they’ve decided to change the way they’re serving advertisements in Gmail. Why? They say it’s in the name of serving ads that are more relevant to users. But really, it’s fairly obvious that it’s about serving ads that will bring in more money.
In the example they give, Google says that if you previously read an email confirming a hotel in Chicago, and were served an ad about flights to Chicago in Gmail, you might see that same ad when you’re reading an email wishing you a happy birthday. The thought is that there wouldn’t be a good ad to serve you related to this birthday message. That’s probably not true — instead, it’s probably an ad with a much lower click rate (and CPC rate) that makes Google less money.
Here’s something else Google notes that’s interesting:
To show these ads, our systems don’t need to store any extra information — Gmail just picks a different recent email to match. The process is entirely automated: no humans are involved in selecting ads, and no email or personal information is shared with advertisers.
Since the beginning of Gmail and its AdSense contextual ads, there has been much concern that Google was reading all of your email to serve up the best ads. Google employees aren’t reading them, but their bots are, and now they’re going to start reading some older ones that you’re not even looking at as well, apparently.
Now, how exactly reading another unrelated email will serve up a more contextually relevant ad, I’m not sure. Actually, I am. In this Google equation, “relevancy” simply means “ad more likely to make us money.”