Imagine if Facebook suddenly announced it was reading everything you sent over Messenger to finely target future ads. There would be uproar and, for once, those fake privacy warnings that get shared every now and then about how Facebook is going to know everything about your life would have actually been true. The thing was -- it wasn't Facebook that was checking out messages and so there was no public rage, just a few years of disquiet among privacy campaigners.
The mood has changed, however. We all know how in the EU the pendulum has swung very much in favour of the privacy rights of every citizen with the introduction of the GDPR, and so it was always going to be tough for Google to carry on scanning emails without seeming to be running counter to the way that people want to conduct their business online.
There was statement after statement put out to reassure the public that Google wasn't actually reading each email, just scanning it through some form of automated software. Up to you how you read that but it was pretty much a confession that your messages were being read, but not by a human.
Let's face it -- if we want a computer to read into what we're looking for and come up with a suggestion, we have a very good resource already provided by Google -- it's called search.
Which brings us on to a very good point. Is there any company, other than Facebook maybe, that has such detailed data about the world's Internet users? Whether it's email sig- up data, Google+ (OK, maybe not that one so much), search data, video watching or browsing behaviour, nobody can see what we're up to in more parts of the Internet than Google.
Strange, then, that they thought it was either necessary or OK to send software minions scanning through Gmail messages to see what people were talking about and what ad might be most appropriate to place alongside their inbox.
So the practice is ending, and not a moment before time. Let's not give Google a round of applause, however. It was a nasty, intrusive tactic that would have likely landed them with a fine of 4% of global turnover, once GDPR kicks in next May. It's also over the top when you consider the data-gathering power the tech giant has elsewhere.
Good riddance to bad rubbish, then. But let's not idolise Google for seeing the light. It had to and it shouldn't have been reading or "scanning" our emails in the first place.