Those Absurdly Irrelevent Gmail Ads? They May Get Better

Gmail users love to kvetch about how bad ads on the service are. Ostensibly targeted to the content of an e-mail message, these placements are typically off the mark in terms of matching a person’s interests, her purchase intent, or even the context of a message she is reading.

Well, that may be about to change — if only slightly — as Google modifies its tactics for delivering these messages. From now on, the company plans to deliver some ads in Gmail based on the content of previous messages — a version of behavioral targeting it already practices in its search results. The move allows Google to dip into a larger pool of user data to match a consumer to potentially relevant ads.

This is something Google didn’t do before. For instance, a person who reads many e-mails on the subject of miniature trains is probably accustomed to seeing ads for toy freight cars and cabooses adjacent to those messages. But chances are he’s never seen them next to happy birthday messages from his great aunt Bea. Beginning over the next few days, that changes. That contextually pointless birthday message will in all likelihood contain the same train-related ads the other ones do.

In a blog post on the shift, Google sought to reassure Gmail users about the privacy risk associated.

“To show these ads, our systems don’t need to store any extra information — Gmail just picks a different recent email to match,” it stated. “The process is entirely automated: no humans are involved in selecting ads, and no email or personal information is shared with advertisers.”

Google also posted the below video to drive home the same point.

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