Google Customer Match Lets Businesses Share Your Email Address with Google, the Better to Target Ads to You

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Today Google rolled out a new feature for their Google Adwords advertisers (the businesses you see advertising in the “Ads by Google”): “give us the email addresses on your mailing list and we’ll target ads to them.” Google calls this “Customer Match”. We call it “email privacy fiasco”. Here’s why.

First, here’s how Google explains the Customer Match process:

Let’s say a retailer wants to advertise a new loyalty program to their customers with ads on Google search. Here’s how it works:
The retailer creates a list from the email addresses their customers have given them. The retailer creates a “Search Network only” campaign that targets this list. The retailer’s customers, who are signed in to their Google Account, see the retailer’s ads as they use Google search.


Now, first, to be clear, no, it doesn’t work just for users with Gmail accounts. Users sign into Google using all sort of email addresses, and what this is saying is “give us the email addresses on your mailing lists, and anytime someone signs into a Google account with one of those email addresses, we’ll show them your ads.”

Google goes on to say that “The list of email addresses you upload will only be used to match to Google IDs and for policy compliance. It won’t be shared with anyone and will be deleted 7 days after matching and the compliance check are complete.”

Now that may be all well and good.


But here’s the thing: How many times, when you’ve given your email address to a company, have they told you that they won’t use it for anything other than to email you their information? And that they won’t share it with anybody else?

If you are like our average reader, you probably care at least a little bit about having your email address shared by someone to whom you have given it. And so you’ve probably checked to make sure that they have said that they won’t share your email address.

Now here comes Google, encouraging their advertisers to share your email address with them. And we’ll bet that a lot of companies will do this without first thinking about the promises that they made to you, their customer. The promise to not share your email address. And now they are going to do exactly that.

Or, at the very least, a lot of businesses are going to have to redo their privacy policies if they want to take advantage of this new advertising opportunity.

Because what Google is encouraging them to do violates a whole lot of email privacy policies.

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Google Customer Match Lets Businesses Share Your Email Address with Google, the Better to Target Ads to You

Now you may have heard that these email addresses can be “hashed” (you can sort of think of it as encryption, but it isn’t really – rather it changes plaintext things to not-obvious-text and ensures that the data received is the same data sent) before they are uploaded to Google, and that may lull you into thinking that your email address isn’t really being shared with Google.

Make no mistake – Google has to be able to ‘unhash’ it in order to match it with their user (you). Even if they aren’t technically unhashing it, they are matching it with the hash of your email address which they do have.

Not to mention that their Customer Match directions say that the email addresses that get uploaded can be hashed “if necessary.” It’s not a requirement.

Google’s Senior VP for Ads and Commerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy, first outed Customer Match yesterday, in his Adwords blog post, Google Brings you Closer to Your Customers.

Says Ramaswamy, “Google is in a unique position to connect consumers with your business in the most relevant ways. Whether they’re searching on Google, checking promotions on Gmail, or watching videos on YouTube, we can deliver the most relevant information based on what they’re doing, wherever they are, when they’re looking, and on any device they’re using.”

Let’s repeat that: “based on what they’re doing, wherever they are, when they’re looking, and on any device they’re using.”

And, oh yeah, now based on who they are.

“Let’s say you’re a travel brand,” Ramaswamy goes on to say. “You can now reach people who have joined your rewards program as they plan their next trip. For example, when these rewards members search for “non-stop flights to new york” on, you can show relevant ads at the top of their search results on any device right when they’re looking to fly to New York. And when those members are watching their favorite videos on YouTube or catching up on Gmail, you can show ads that inspire them to plan their next trip.”

In closing, he explains that “Only Google can help you do this to delight your most loyal customers in the moments that truly matter.”

We ran that last line through our GoogleMarketingSpeak translator, and it turns out that it translates to this:

“Only Google has the power to take the email address that your customer trusted you with, and to turn it into a stalking machine of advertising goodness.”

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Google Customer Match Lets Businesses Share Your Email Address with Google, the Better to Target Ads to You

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