You just received an email from Banana Republic. If you're using Gmail, or any other modern email client, the embedded images are blocked, and you have to click "Display Images Below" to see what fabulous styles await your attention.
It's a pain. And then you click the button and it takes forever to load. It also turns out that, according to Ars Technica, when those images are downloaded, a ton of information about you is sent back, including your IP address (your location), your referring website (which tells them that you're using Gmail, on a mobile device), and the request itself indicates that you opened the email.
Google has a simple solution, to protect your privacy and to speed things up: they'll store the images themselves, and modify your email to facilitate the process.
Yep. If the thought of Google scanning the content of your emails to deliver targeted advertising irked you at all, with this little tweak, they'll be altering the emails themselves.
In practice, this is a minor coding tweak that will speed up the delivery of your email and will hand less information back to the email spammer. But modifying emails is crossing a line. Whether that bothers you, the consumer, is a different question.
Okay, so that little pass-back of information that email marketers receive? It helps them to provide advertising services. Google also provides advertising services. By pulling images onto their own servers, Google just took away a metric that those companies can use to determine (and demonstrate) effectiveness of their ads. The only way they'll know if you received and opened the email is if you click a link.
With no ability to quantify ad views, that could mean less business for email marketers. (Such a shame.) And, conversely, perhaps more business for Google. Will antitrust scrutiny follow?
Privacy Paper Cuts
It's death to privacy by a million paper cuts (or by data mining). That idea we had this morning -- switching to Outlook - seems a lot more appealing after this afternoon's newest Gmail feature was revealed.
We know, we're a bit paranoid about privacy. Are you at all concerned? Tell us about it on LinkedIn.