Outlook Versus Gmail: It’s War

Microsoft’s Scroogled campaign, which claims that Google is ‘scroogling’ its users by reading their emails and focusing too much on ‘paid for’ placements within their shopping results has been running for almost a year now.

Over the past 12 months, the aggressive campaign has painted various Google products in a negative light, at first attacking their shopping results and then the fact that Google shares user’s personal information with app makers.

Most recently, the anti-Google campaign has turned its attack to emails and spam saying that ‘Google spams your inbox with ads that look like real emails’.

If you’re not familiar with the campaign then you can watch the latest video here:

As you can see, the crux of the latest attack surrounds the fact that Google goes through ‘every Gmail that’s sent or received, looking for keywords so they can target Gmail users with paid ads’.  Microsoft say that ‘there is currently no way for a user to opt out of this ‘invasion’ and ‘now, they’re going one step further over the line by using that same personal information to spam your inbox with ads that look like real emails’.

Image via the Official AdWords Community

Image via the Official AdWords Community

As you can see from the screen shot above these adverts that Microsoft refer to, look very much like ‘normal’ unread emails. It is for this reason that Microsoft is not alone in their outrage.

The Wall Street Journal published the scary fact that the breadth of Google’s information gathering about internet users rivals that of any single entity, government or corporate.

What do you think? Is this a step too far?

Microsoft say that ‘your email provider should protect you from spam, but Google is doing just the opposite; they’re reading your private email conversations and using what they find to push junk mail directly to your Gmail inbox.’

New Yorker columnist Matt Buchanan says that ‘if Google can slip ads into Gmail without users minding, is there anywhere ads cannot go?’

So far, these advertisements have only been reported as having appeared in the promotions folder of Gmail for Android and in their defence, Google says that ‘we work hard to make ads safe, unobtrusive, and relevant. Instead of ads always appearing at the top of your inbox, they’ve been relegated to a more appropriate place in your Promotions tab to create a better overall experience’.

But is this update really contributing towards a better user experience? I’m inclined to agree with Jared Newman of Time Tech who says that ‘as a compulsive e-mail checker, I find that scattering new messages across a handful of folders just creates more work for me. With the new inbox, if I want to check my e-mail, I need to peek into four locations instead one. That’s not an improvement’.

The main problem that we predict for email marketers is that if their emails are going to the promotions tab and Google are willing to chip away at user experience in this folder in the name of commercial gains, then because the promotions tab isn’t the default landing box for their ‘priority messages’, customers may be less likely to go there, ever!

It’s driving more and more brands to send emails asking to be ‘promoted’ out of the promotions tab – such the one right, from Dyson.

In fact, when we observed open rates amongst Gmail subscribers just after the feature rolled out back in July, we saw barely any impact. We are reviewing the latest data and will keep you posted on the latest results on this very blog.

Dyson Promote Us Out Of Promoted Email Campaign

Click to view Dyson’s approach to the ‘promoted tabs’ challenge.

When you consider the same principles within an offline example, the entire concept sounds absurd; imagine if British Telecom were listening into all of your conversations with friends and family and then sending you voicemails with adverts related to words that you had used? Would you settle for that? I’m willing to bet that you wouldn’t

However, because we’re so used to ads online, and we consider Gmail to be a ‘free’ service, it doesn’t seem to bother us as much as the B.T equivalent would almost certainly do.

How free is Gmail anyway?

While we don’t pay a one of fee or have to set up a monthly payment in order to use Google’s email service (or any online service for that matter) it’s not truly free at all – if you value your thoughts…

When you’re online, your data is being used to aggressively predict your actions and sell to you, that’s the payoff.

Google have defended this in the past, and their attorney wrote in a motion that:

‘Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use Web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS [electronic communications service] provider in the course of delivery.”

Hmmm. What do you make of all of this? Does it outrage you that Gmail is showing users ads that masquerade as emails? Do you think it will affect the email marketing experience…