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Google to stop reading your Gmail
to help sell ads
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Google is
going to stop reading your Gmail in
search of opportunities to sell ads.
The change announced Friday will
end a practice that Google has embraced
since the company introduced Gmail in
2004. The practice has raised concerns
among privacy watchdogs and creeped
out some users.
To help finance the free service, Goo-
gle has been scanning through what
Gmail users were discussing and then
showing ads connected to some of the
topics. Someone writing about running,
for instance, might see ads for Nike or
Google still plans to show ads with-
in Gmail. But instead of scanning
through email content, the company's
software will rely on other signals to
determine which ads are most likely to
appeal to each of its 1.2 billion Gmail
The Mountain View, California, com-
pany said it would stop the ad-driven
scanning of Gmail later this year.
Google says it's changing course so
its free Gmail service operates more like
the subscription version that it has sold
to more than 3 million companies. The
paid Gmail doesn't include ads, so the
company has never tried to scan the
content of those users' emails for mar-
Despite that, Google said some of its
business customers incorrectly assumed
the company was scanning those
accounts as well. By ending all scanning,
Google hopes to end the confusion and
sell Gmail to even more businesses.
Gmail now ranks as the world's larg-
est email service, an indication that
most people didn't care about Google's
scanning methods. Both Microsoft and
Apple have publicly skewered Google
for having the audacity to mine users'
emails for ad sales, but those attacks
didn't undercut Gmail's popularity.
Facebook wants to nudge you into 'meaningful' online groups
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- At Facebook,
mere "sharing" is getting old. Finding deep-
er meaning in online communities is the
next big thing.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg is no longer satis-
fied with just connecting the world so that
people can pass around baby pictures and
live video - or fake news and hate symbols.
So the Facebook founder wants to bring more
meaning to its nearly 2 billion users by shep-
herding them into online groups that bring
together people with common passions,
problems and ambitions.
Much like the creation of Facebook itself
- arguably the largest social-engineering
project in history - that shift could have
broad and unanticipated consequences. Face-
book will apply the same powerful comput-
er algorithms that make its service so com-
pelling to the task of boosting membership
in "meaningful" groups to more than a bil-
lion people within five years.
If successful, that would also encourage
people to spend more time on Facebook,
which could boost the company's profits.
While Facebook doesn't currently place ads
in its groups, it said it "can't speak to future
plans." Advertising is virtually Facebook's
only source of revenue ; it brought in almost
$27 billion dollars in 2016, 57 percent more
than the previous year.
THE SEARCH FOR MEANING
The shift comes as Facebook continues to
grapple with the darker side of connecting
the world, from terrorist recruitment to vid-
eos of murder and suicides to propaganda
intended to disrupt elections around the
world. For Zuckerberg, using his social net-
work to "build community" and "bring the
world closer together" - two phrases from
Facebook's newly updated mission statement
- is a big part of the answer.
"When you think of the social structure
of the world, we are probably one of the
larger institutions that can help empower
people to build communities," Zuckerberg
said in a recent interview at the company's
offices in Menlo Park, California. "There, I
think we have a real opportunity to help
make a difference."
Zuckerberg outlined his latest vision at a
"communities summit" held Thursday in
Chicago. It's the company's first gathering
for the people who run millions of groups
on Facebook, a feature the company rolled
out years ago to little fanfare. Facebook is
also rolling out new administrative tools
intended to simplify the task of screening
members and managing communities in
hopes that will encourage people to create
and cultivate more groups.
Facebook groups are ad hoc collections of
people united by a single interest; they offer
ways to chat and organize events. Original-
ly conceived as a way for friends and fam-
ily to communicate privately, groups have
evolved to encompass hobbies, medical con-
ditions, military service, pets, parenthood
and just about anything else you could think
of.To Zuckerberg, now 33, the effort to fos-
ter meaningful communities reflects his
recent interest in ways Facebook can make
the world a less divisive place, one that
emerged following the fractious 2016 pres-
He has previously talked about the need
to bring people together in both a lengthy
manifesto published earlier this year and
during his commencement address at Har-
vard University last month.
"MEANING," FACEBOOK STYLE
Data-driven to its core, Facebook has quan-
tified "meaning" so it can be sure people
are getting more of it. And what Facebook
aims to maximize is the time people spend
in its online groups. Whenever someone
spends at least 30 minutes a week in a group,
Facebook classifies it as "meaningful." The
company estimates that 130 million of its
users are in such groups; it aims to boost
that to over a billion by 2022.
Fa cebook has already been tweaking its
algorithms to recommend more groups to
users. Those changes have increased the
number of people in "meaningful" groups
by 50 percent over the past six months,
Zuckerberg said - a testament to the power
of algorithms on human behavior.
Of course, anything that keeps people
coming back to Facebook also gives it more
opportunities to learn about their interests
and other personal details that help it sell
advertising, according to analysts.
"It's really simple economics: If users are
spending time on Facebook, they're seeing
more ads," said eMarketer analyst Debra
Williamson. "Increasing user engagement is
a necessity for Facebook."
Virtual communities "can fill a fundamen-
tal need we have for a sense of belonging,
much like eating or sleeping," said Anita
Blanchard, a psychologist at the University
of North Carolina at Charlotte who's stud-
ied them for 20 years. Facebook's plan to
connect people with like-minded fellows
sounds like "a fine idea," she said.
Blanchard's research has also shown that
online communities can make people less
intolerant of opposing viewpoints. "They get
you out of your own clothes and make con-
nections across the U.S., making you realize
you can get along with people with different
beliefs," she said.
For Sarah Giberman, an artist and parent
who lives in Arlington, Texas, a meaningful
group is one "that serves a need in your life,
that fills some space that would otherwise
"I spend a lot more time on Facebook
because of the groups than I would other-
wise," she said. "Especially with the current
sociopolitical climate, I'm not comfortable
being very open in my regular newsfeed."
FILE - This March 23, 2010, file photo shows the Google logo at the Google headquarters in Brussels.
Google is going to stop reading your Gmail in search of opportunities to sell ads. The change announced
Friday, June 23, 2017 will end a practice that Google has embraced since the company introduced Gmail
in 2004, even though it raised concerns among privacy watchdogs and creeped out some users. (AP
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, right, speaks with panelists at the Facebook Communities
Summit, Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Chicago. Zuckerberg announced a new Facebook initiative
designed to spur people to form more meaningful communities with Facebook's groups feature.
From left are Lola Omolola, Erin Schatteman and Janet Sanchez, who run popular Facebook
groups. (AP Photo)
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