Monday, February 25, 2008

Ad Targeting on Gmail appears to be using more than just Gmail data

There has been a lot of speculation about how Google will use all the data that it collects about visitors to its various services. Last year I blogged about how Google can use data it collects on Gmail, Google Search, Adsense, Adwords, Google Analytics etc. to do Behavioral Targeting and then continued with few more posts on Google and Behavioral Targeting. Google was first denying the whole notion of it getting into Behavioral Targeting but last year they introduced Personalized Search using Web History and then introduced in-session targeting on their Search Engine Result Page (SERP).

Now, it’s Gmail’s turn.

Users of Gmail are used to seeing text ads on the side and top of their Gmail mailbox. These text ads are based on the content of the email that a user is reading or gets. I was surprised when I recently saw an ad that was neither relevant to the emails I get nor relevant to my Gmail profile. It was however relevant to some of the search made in past by me on Google and relevant to me (maybe), which Google could have guessed from my name (maybe).

The ad I saw was from a Travel Company that specializes in tickets to India, and interestingly the ad was in my native language “Hindi”. Yes that’s right, the ad was in “Hindi”. My Gmail account, on which I got this ad, is for my semi-business use and never get any personal emails other than from my wife, who uses email address. But I have never got an email in “Hindi” in this account. My conclusion is that Google pulled my name, Web history from Google Account (that includes Google Searches, none of which resulted in me viewing “Hindi” pages) and email address to conclude that I might be interested in an ad from an Indian Travel Agency. None of my searches or my emails will indicate that I know Hindi so it was purely a speculation by the Google Advertiser or Google to think that I knew Hindi.

Here is the ad that I saw

Have you seen something similar? Comments? Questions?


  1. Anonymous9:36 AM

    Yes, my name is "Rajeev" and I see the same ad (its an image of hindi text). I think they are probably doing first name and last name based "profiling".

  2. Hi Anil
    Hope you are fine. Sometimes google really makes me nervous as it seems they are trying to control your life by profiling you all the time. I just played around with my Gmail account after reading your article and noticed that now they have resorted to more guess work based on assumptions. Actually i have two gmail accounts and one i use for career advancement and and another only for personal mails. I was surprised to see the same job ads in both my email accounts which can't be too much of coincidence. Either they managed to relate both my accounts or just pushing some random ads now a days. I have emailed you the print screen of both the ads.

  3. Yes they target on names. They even target on the domain name of the email of the person emailing you!! I got an email from a friend working for an Indian IT company and we were talking about Tennis. But the ads I got were for "outsourcing" / "IT" etc. :)

    Its about the entire context, not just the context of your email. It'll get tricky if ads were being targeted based on searches/Google calendar data etc.


I would like to hear your comments and questions.