Google allows companies to target you based on your email address

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 30, 2015
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Companies, Google

Google announced the roll out of a new advertising tool recently on the company's official Adwords blog that allows companies to target users based on email addresses.

The system, called Customer Match, works in the following way. Companies upload email addresses they want to target to Google, for instance by uploading emails of part of the company's customer base to Google.

Companies get new capabilities then to target these users on Google properties provided that users are logged into their Google account at the time.

Google states that the matching happens in a "safe and privacy-safe way" but does not provide additional details as to what that means. It most likely means that company's cannot use Customer Match to target or track individual users but only the group of users.

The example given by Google has a travel brand target users who joined the company's reward program on Google Search when they search for flights and to show ads to them on Gmail or YouTube that may inspire them to plan their next trip.

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Customer Match lets companies target new customer through its Similar Audiences feature on YouTube and Gmail. Google will show these ads to non-customers who match certain characteristics and interests as existing customers (based on the list of email addresses uploaded to Google).

Google is not the only company that's letting advertisers target users by email address. Facebook and Twitter do the same, but they are limited to a single product while Google offers the new advertising program across different platforms.

Privacy advocates may have a couple of issues with this new advertising form. Probably the biggest one is the uploading of emails to Google. Customers who buy products or services from company's may not be too happy to learn that the company has uploaded their email address to a third party (Google) without their consent.

There is also the question whether their is a lower limit of email addresses that company's can upload to lists they create. If not, what is keeping them from creating individual lists for one or a handful of email addresses to target individual users this way.

What you can do about it

Google notes that customers can opt-out of personalized ads in the Google Ads Settings. All that needs to be done on the page is to switch the "ads based on your interests" preference to off.

Other options that you have at your disposal are to make sure you are signed out of your Google account whenever you using Google products. That works only for some products however, as you cannot use Gmail on the web at all if you are not signed in to your account.

Now You: Tell us what you think of Google's Customer Match advertising format.

Google allows companies to target you based on your email address
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Google allows companies to target you based on your email address
Google is rolling out the new advertising format Customer Match that enables companies to target users based on their email address.

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  1. p3t3r said on October 7, 2015 at 9:51 am

    Those idiotic companies should quit this stupid non-produtive business. They are wasting time and ressources ond don’t produce anything but carbondioxyde. Mass-advertising was always a waste of ressources. The marketing-stooges fell in sheer extasy, when the response of their harassments were above 0,9 %.

    Advertisement is like cancer. I don’t need any of them.
    I know what i need and i am able to inform myself. Those evil ‘advertizorz’ behave as in a medieval bazaar.

    Dear producers and salesmen! You have something to sell? Fine! So create a good website which describes your products as detailed as possible, put an online-shop to that site. Then let Google know about it and don’t forget other search-engines, too.
    If i need your stuff then I will find you. That’s the way it goes. Companies who dare to annoy me are on high risk for a lifetime ban.

  2. silat said on October 3, 2015 at 7:13 am

    I have never liked unsolicited phone calls.
    I have never liked unsolicited snail mail.
    I do not want unsolicited email either.

  3. Ann said on October 1, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    I say go ahead Google. I have a special google email to just log into google , not associated nor used for anything else.
    so any other company cannot have this email.
    Ans since I’m not logged in with an email that i do use there will be no match

  4. Torro said on October 1, 2015 at 5:36 am

    for my family, at least with our home network, we cant connect to anything google, so far that we know of, google is blocked.

    now as for our phones, that’s something different altogether. this means as long as you’re syncing stuff to your gmail account, using google play, etc., then you are subject to the targeting.

    Thank goodness for phone rooting : )

  5. hirobo2 said on September 30, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Google, lol. All I need to do is block *.googlesyndication.* and all your efforts would have been futile…

  6. dan said on September 30, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Google owns us: it is futile to resist. Submit your will and privacy to the digital overlords and all will be well.

    1. Nebulus said on September 30, 2015 at 3:37 pm

      They wish they would own us, but they don’t – and they will never be able to do it with everyone.

  7. Nebulus said on September 30, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    Users can do nothing to stop the exchange of the email address between the two companies, but they can use an ad blocker to stop the ads altogether.

    1. Jeff said on September 30, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Exactly, and companies wonder why ad blockers are spreading like wildfire. Most of these sites that are bemoaning the increasing use of ad blockers are the same ones selling user info and/or violating their privacy with ads that target and track.

  8. A. said on September 30, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Its very use to misuse this for targeting individuals. For instance, one could upload a group of 1000 emails consisting of 999 fake addresses and 1 true (targeted) address. Doesn’t this sound reasonable or am I missing something?

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