back to article UK punters scowl at webmail ad targeting

Two in five Brits are worried that free webmail comes at the expense of privacy because firms are scanning their messages in order to serve up targeted ads. A similar 40 per cent of 1,800 Brits polled in a survey by alternative freemail firm GMX were unaware of the practice. One third of Brits quizzed during GMX's Attitudes to …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. PsyWulf
    Paris Hilton

    Lolwhut? They scan our emails? Nevar

    Scan away boys...if I wanted privacy from the internet i'd unplug my router or meet in person.

    If they think my mail's interesting enough to not just have a completely innocent bot scan it for adwords - but actually sit and take a good read then I say good on em...hope its juicy enough

    Paris because she has no privacy

  2. Adam C

    Free webmail - You get what you pay for

    If you use email enough for spam and the suchlike to be a problem, and decide to use a free alternative - You deserve all the spam and targeted ads you get in my opinion :-)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a surprise...

    A study paid for by GMX reveals that the public want GMX's services.

  4. Pete

    Easy Solution

    GMail + Firefox + Greasemonkey = No ads from Google (Ever)

    If you use a freemail service, how do you expect it to be paid for? Be creative - if you want to avoid TV ads, you turn the channel or ignore them. If you want to avoid web ads, screen them out!

    The people who know about this practice and who don't like it have 2 options. Convert to my suggestion above, or stop being stingy and go pay £1.50 a month for a mailbox.

    Mine's the one with the logo painted over.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    If indeed this is the case....

    why are 99.999% of ad's targeted in my webmail accounts, completly wide of the mark....

    maybe that's why no one notices them...

    Just checked

    One is for Eurotunnel (I hate France!)

    Another is for BT Broadband, I think BT are Shite, have to deal with them enough at work thanks.

    Other account I'm married with a new baby.

    CelebAir - I F***kin hat the drivel that is reality TV

    Capital One Credit card. I don't own any and don't intend to.

    Other than that. Spot on!

  6. Eddie Edwards

    I am the one in fifty

    I think it's great. Due to content of some email, Google referred me to a company with whom I wanted to do business. Then they did it again. I doubt they're stealing my company secrets, but then I'm obviously not paranoid enough.

    I also like Amazon recommendations.

    Mine's the one with something appropriately amusing written on it.

  7. Kev

    its free...

    what do you expect. Too often people want something for nothing. If you have a free web mail account, provision of the service still costs money.....

    how should the service be paid for.... advertising does that.

    If you don't want to see the adverts, download to a mail client like thunderbird, problem solved.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    There is an easy way to avoid this threat:

    stop being so damn cheap and pony up some folding for your email.

    Mine's the one on the coathook in the Free Lunch Cafe.

  9. Pete Silver badge

    needs excellent SPAM filters

    If you're going to serve up ads based on the content of people's email, then make sure you're not simply adding to the amount of unwanted mail they already receive. If the scanning company lets through SPAM, they'll start serving ads based on the contents of these unsolicited emails, which helps no-one.

    What would be interesting is if the content scanners start firing emails back at the sender, based on the contents of what they sent you.

  10. BoldMan

    Obvious solution

    Don't use a free email provider!

    If you have really private stuff coming in your email, find a proper email solution that doesn't rely on "trusting" Yahoo, Google, Hotmail etc etc...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mindless drones?

    This type of email scanning isn't right but:

    1) I use Windows Live Mail on my desktop to access Hotmail and Google mail. There are no ads in this and I don't even know if Google mail has adverts as I have only logged in directly a couple of times when I first got it.

    2) Are these people unable to ignore the adverts, even if they are annoying in their design, etc.? I am bombarded by adverts all day when I read online newspaper sites, but I can't name one advert/product/manufacturer that I have been exposed to, I filter them out and no I do not get strange urges to buy products that I don't want without knowing why.

    Is our society now so full of pliable, receptive drones that simply by placing a possibly relevant advert on a webpage someone is viewing they have to rush out and buy that product? If so can I have their names and I will contact them with some poor quality, low cost, high profit items I want to sell.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    nothing to worry about - nothing to see - move along now

    ALL communications are being monitored, not just the "free webmail". Try searching for references to "room 641A" and be sure that the same is being done elsewhere around the globe.

  13. Dark Horse

    webmail and spam

    So, if the webmailers scan emails to create a targeted ad campaign, would a lot of spam generate targeted ads for viagra and pr0n?

  14. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)


    Hi, Jakey. Thanks for your comment. I've fixed the offending snafus. In answer to your question, yes, we do give things a once-over, and often even a twice-over. I'm the only one on the subs desk this week, and since I'm also doing most of the moderating (that means you) I'm going to be a few percent more fallible than usual. Sorry.

    Now, run to the caff and get us a latte, there's a love.

  15. paul clarke
    Dead Vulture

    OFGS!! Get a life people

    E-mails are scanned eh?

    Who by? oh no we forgot, they are being scanned by software that targets ads based on words in your e-mail.

    So what exactly are the privacy implications? Cousin Jonny sends an email saying he bought a new Mikita Cordless Drill from B&Q and we have a small ad showing cordless drills? Damn I can hear those helicopters hovering above. good job I have this foil hat on!!

    And can we have the name of the report changed to "Some UK punters scowl....." so as not to refer to ALL?

    If you have nothing to hide, what is the problem? Scared in case someone finds out that you are the worlds number one peado? or that you are in fact Osama Bin Laden and you can be sold a timeshare in Spain?

    What are these people on? They will complain about anything!!

  16. Andrew Cawte
    Thumb Down

    Oh goody

    If they scan the contents of my inbox, they'll end up thinking I'm absolutely fascinated by penis pills and counterfeit watches - and presumably try and sell me more of the same. What a shame that this technology can't be used to ensure I see _less_ advertising :(

  17. Elmer Phud

    Old issues, old games

    I remember the scares when it was put about that HM Gov corp. was scanning emails for potential terrorist threats. The consensus within internal BT newsgroups was that we should use as many references as possible. The number of people just dropping in references to Saddam Hussein (for he was still hanging around then) and bombs and Semtex and AK47's went up dramatically.

    Do the same with stuff you'd never dream of buying and see if you get adverts targetted in that direction. If they want information just give them loads of crap - fill their servers with rubbish. Give 'em what they want.

  18. JakeyC

    @Sarah Bee

    Well, alright then. All is forgiven. Juggling Moderatrix duties with proof-reading (Punctuatrix? Grammatrix?) must be tricky.

    The latte has been ordered. If it doesn't turn up, please call Starbucks.

  19. Ash

    Mentioning of the featured company's name > 5?

    Yes, for 6 total.

    This, ladies and gents, is an advertisment. It just costs less to get the (heavily biased) survey done than it does to get journo's interested in an alternative email outfit.

  20. Tony
    Dead Vulture

    meh or meh-be not

    My initial reaction was one of total apathy as I only use free mail accounts as 'spam catchers' when I need to give an email to sign up for a forum or something online and I don't want to give my 'real' address. You are using Google/Yahoo/MSN's service and as such they can argue that they have a right to do whatever they want with your emails. You give them the right by accepting their terms and conditions when you sign up and if you don't like it then you don't have to use their service.

    However it occurs to me that this is exactly the defence that BT would use over the whole 'Phorm' thing. Alright it doesn’t get them off the hook with the secret trials as I don't believe that there was anything in their Ts&Cs at that time, but as for rolling it out, surely they can use exactly the same reasoning and point out that companies such as Google already scan every word of every email sent through their service for the purpose of targeting ads. They can argue you don't have to use their service if you don't like it as you can choose to go with another provider and they are only doing it to show you relevant advertising just like Google do.

    Now to you and me there is a world of difference between scanning webmail hosted on a free service and deep packet inspection of all your traffic, but do you think a 97 year old judge will make the distinction? Or our technologically-retarded government?

  21. Mark

    re: There is an easy way to avoid this threat:

    Well free webmail is solving a problem your ISP isn't:

    when you're not at home, how do you get your email?

    Most ISP's I've used will allow you to log in to your email account from outside their network, but the connection isn't encrypted, so anyone sniffing on the network can abuse your email.

    But you don't need access all that often, so spending the folding stuff on webmail access is a little redundant.

    There's another reason for it, too. And one the ISP really doesn't want to help you with: if you use the ISP email, when you leave them you have to contact everyone to say you're not there any more.

    Use webmail and you have one email address you don't have to change when you change ISP.

    'course spending money on that is worth while.

    And you are still locked in to requiring the webmail company to continue operating.

  22. Mo


    It's pretty simple, really…

    With e-mail providers, you have many many choices. You are under no obligation to pick the one which is free and serves targeted ads. Personally, I do… for some things. For others, I have a server (which I own) in a rack (which I rent) which handles things instead.

    If you want free e-mail, there's going to be a trade-off. There has been for as long as free e-mail has existed. If you don't like it, pick another option.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh naughty naughty

    GMX claiming they treat email like sealed mail - well here is the kicker you cannot see who sent the mail on standard snail mail only the postbox, but on email the 'envelope' contains the sender details, which of course can be profiled.

    We need another system than email in its current form, I think people are already going to whitelisting anyhow, and encryption will continue on as well, though note neither of those can stop an ISP from profiling the header information, in email as it currently stands.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like