GMail ads

Remember all the concerns about GMail reading people’s emails with the goal of displaying targeted ads? I was among those expressing reservations back when the service was first introduced. I continue to believe that it is important to be generally conscious about how much of our email and other activities are stored and potentially analyzed by Google and other service providers. Nonetheless, it’s also interesting to pause on occasion to see the level of sophistication – or lack thereof – that some of these services have reached nowadays.

Sometimes I am surprised by how well the ads on the sidebar match the content of my messages. For example, from very little text, GMail seems to be able to tell if a conversation is conducted in another language and serves up ads consistent with the language of the correspondance (here I’m referring to some experiences with Hungarian).

Today, however, I was reminded that there is still considerable room for improvement in the system. I am in the midst of corresponding with some friends about an evening outing consisting of drinks and dinner and possibly dancing. There is no information in the messages about the location of all this (even at the city-level) so it’s hard for the ads to be targeted in that way. Our email addresses either end in or educational institutions scattered across the country so even if GMail analyzed that information, it wouldn’t help in this case. We also haven’t mentioned any restaurant names to provide clues.

There is one piece of specific information that has come up, however: “I’m flexible (except the usual Thai food allergy problem).”

Given this note, it was curious to see a link to “Thai Restaurant Iowa”. The word “allergy” is right next to “Thai food” in the above sentence. So what are the chances that information about Thaid food restaurants is going to be of interest?

7 Responses to “GMail ads”

  1. jenn Says:

    You may (or may not) find this somewhat related issue of interest. Several months ago I googled IKEA (for the first time) while on a lunch break at work and browsed their online merchandise. I didn’t buy anything and was not required to enter any type of personal information to simply peruse the web pages. However, a couple of weeks later I received an IKEA catalog in the mail at my home address. This freaked me out a little.

    BTW, I stopped by to check out your blog(s) after attending thelecture you participated in at at Indiana University Northwest. Very interesting. Thanks!

  2. David Brake Says:

    I often get ads for diploma mills or essay writing services when I use Gmail to read messages about academic subjects. It really really annoys me. But gmail is just too useful not to use. It would be nice to have a “complain about this ad” or “don’t show me this ad” button.

  3. scott Says:

    I actually don’t notice the ads unless they’re uncannily apropriate. And I also like the convenience of the “see a map of this location” whenever someone sends an address in the message.

  4. eszter Says:

    Jenn, interesting story, I wonder if the online actions were directly tied to the hard-copy catalog. Intriguing!

    David, I know what you mean, I see those as well. I also get a lot of ads for help with applying to Northwestern, etc. Those aren’t very sophisticated either. After all, if you already have a account, wouldn’t that suggest you’re probably there already? (Okay, I can think of a few cases when it wouldn’t, but for the most part, the assumptions don’t seem to be great there.)

    Scott, I don’t notice too many of them, but I’m curious at times and on occasion the ads are intriguing. I notice the ones above in the RSS bar much more frequently and find them intriguing enough on occasion to click on, definitely.

  5. trz Says:

    I hate adds!!!

  6. scott Says:

    I forgot to mention that the gmail application rocks my socks and I am thrilled that I can now use it with my address. I see nothing on the horizon to tempt me to switch to another application.

  7. eszter Says:

    Scott, for the record – in case this got lost in my post – I ADORE GMail and see no viable alternatives on the horizon. (I still like Pine for some things, but in the age of attachments galore, it’s harder to use.)