Google amends terms to clarify that data is analyzed for ads

The company seeks to add greater clarity around its automated scanning of emails and other data for ad tracking and customized search purposes

In an attempt at clarity, Google has amended its terms of service to say that it analyzes private data, including emails, for purposes including the delivery of ads and customized search results.

The changes to its terms of service, announced this week, come as Internet users continue to grapple with how and why companies handle their data.

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In one recent high-profile example, Microsoft faced a backlash following reports that it had actually read someone's Hotmail emails, under a policy that has since been changed.

For Google, the issue concerns its automated scanning of emails and other data. "Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you with personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection," a new statement in the terms reads. The analysis occurs, Google said, as content is sent, received and stored.

The changes were made for clarity purposes, based on feedback the company received over the last few months, said Google spokesman Matt Kallman . "We want our policies to be simple and easy for users to understand," he said in a statement.

That feedback hasn't all been nice. A recent class-action lawsuit filed against Google accused the company of wiretapping in the way it scanned Gmail messages. A major driver of the suit was the plaintiffs' claim that Google's terms were unclear in describing how the company scans Gmail content to deliver ads. A federal judge last month refused to grant the case class-action status.

However, although Google revised its terms and privacy policy in 2012, a reasonable Gmail user who read the privacy policy "would not necessarily have understood that her emails were being intercepted to create user profiles or to provide targeted advertisements," U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh wrote in a previous ruling in that case.

Google this week also made some modifications to its privacy policy. Those changes do not mention automated analysis, but do provide added explanation around specific terms and issues such as Web cookie tracking and device-specific information Google might collect.

The company did not formally announce the tweaks to its policies. Instead, a link at the bottom of Google's home page currently reads, "Updated Privacy and Terms." The new terms of service are set to go into effect April 14.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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