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Google is Taking Away My Gmail Data. Should I Panic?

4 MINUTE READ | June 27, 2017

Google is Taking Away My Gmail Data. Should I Panic?

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Christian Buckler

Christian Buckler has written this article. More details coming soon.

google gmail updates

In a brief blog post last week, Google unveiled that “later this year” they will be changing their data collection approach for users of “consumer Gmail,” the free version of Gmail widely available since 2009. If you haven’t seen the article yet, the key bit for advertisers is buried in the second paragraph:

“Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change. This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products. Ads shown are based on users’ settings. Users can change those settings at any time, including disabling ads personalization.”

This is particularly interesting for advertisers because it fundamentally changes one of the key targeting benefits of Gmail Ads: the ability to target potential customers based on the content of their inbox.

Google has historically used some of users’ email data (words or phrases from emails, domain names of senders) to provide targeting options for advertisers using Gmail ads. For advertisers, this meant easy and reliable targeting for users receiving promotional emails from a related or competing brand.

If reading the above paragraph made you think “well that’s creepy,” you’re not alone. In fact, this is one of the data collection methods under consideration in a European Union privacy update proposed earlier this year. Moreover, Google’s Diane Greene, Google’s Senior Vice President of Cloud, made statements to Bloomberg on the matter that suggest there was a significant amount of confusion whether paid GSuite customers email data is being collected (it’s not), which could hamper Google’s ability to grow their enterprise base.

With this data collection uneasiness alongside Google’s consistently-improving targeting based on other data points, it makes sense that Google has made the call to announce the shift now, giving advertisers the opportunity to adjust over a longer timeline (and likely minimize revenue loss along the way).

Today in Gmail, AdWords offers several other targeting options for Gmail Ads, including CRM-based remarketing, Similar Audience lookalikes based on CRM lists, and Affinity Audiences based on user browsing behavior.

Moving forward, we believe Google wouldn’t be making this change so unexpectedly if they didn’t have something else in the pipeline. It’s important to remember that even after dropping Gmail data, Google still has access to a hoard of information they have collected, analyzed and (likely) inserted into models and Machine Learning algorithms: Google account information, search behavior, site visits and YouTube engagement. If you want to see this in action, take a peek at your Ads Personalization settings while logged into a Google account.

In the coming months, expect to hear more information out of Google about how they’re using these other data points in the Google landscape to craft new targeting options to fill in the gap left behind by this update.

No, this change will only affect Gmail Ads. This has always been the unique quirk of Gmail Ads (formerly Gmail Sponsored Promotions, one of the more recent additions to the AdWords stable): ads served in the email environment, uniquely targeted based on data from the email environment. Moving forward, the targeting piece of that equation will be shifted to align with other AdWords formats.

From what we’ve seen, we are anticipating a hard cutoff around Q4, giving advertisers the opportunity to adjust for the new targeting update either before or after the big retail holiday events.

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In the meantime, the other strengths of using the Gmail unit still remain: the ability to serve an ad experience that rises above the cluttered inbox environment, offering several immersive options like form-fills, video embedding, and product collection features. For brands familiar with the unit, now is a good time to start exploring new prospecting targets like affinity audiences or (even better) Similar Audience lookalike variants of their first-party data.

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