Matt Buchanan
The New Yorker
July 25, 2013

gmailspying2We get too many e-mails. Google knows this, and at the end of May the company announced a somewhat radical redesign of the Gmail inbox, which started rolling out broadly last week. Now, your Gmail is broken up into as many as five sections of your choice: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums.

Google describes the new format as something that “puts you back in control.” But it has actually taken something away: the absolute sanctity of the inbox. Traditionally, Gmail has displayed ads around the edges of users’ messages. Though Google picked which ads to show based on the content of the e-mails—fodder for Microsoft attacks—the ads were never integrated into the space, seemingly untouchable, in which the mail appeared. The new Gmail, however, reverses course, and puts ads directly into the inbox. They appear under the Promotions tab, and closely resemble actual e-mails; faint text in the subject line that says “Ad” is the only indication of what they are. When one is clicked on, it expands within the inbox. A Google spokesperson explained that the ads, which advertisers can buy now, are subject to higher quality standards than other Google ads; you won’t see them at all if there are no relevant placements for Google to serve up. They also do not appear for users who have disabled the Promotions tab. (I have the Promotions tab enabled, and I have not yet seen an ad.) And, for the moment, they do not appear in the Gmail mobile app, the spokesperson confirmed; she could not comment on whether they would appear there in the future. But it stands to reason that they will—if users don’t revolt.

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