Google to Use Email Addresses for Ad Targeting, Like Facebook and Twitter Do

Brands Can Only Target Email Addresses People Have Given Them Directly

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If you've ever searched for a product on Google, you've seen ads from a bunch of companies looking to make you their customer. But soon you'll likely see more ads from companies that already count you as a customer, and not only when you're searching on Google.

Taking a page from Facebook's playbook, Google is beginning to let advertisers upload lists of their customers' email addresses in order to target those people with ads when searching on Google, watching videos on YouTube or checking email on Gmail. Eventually brands will also be able to target people that Google identifies as having similar characteristics to the people in their email lists.

To accomplish this customer matching, Google will be cross-referencing brands' email lists with the email addresses tied to people's Google accounts, the majority of which are Gmail addresses though people can use other email providers to sign up for a Google account. A Google spokeswoman declined to say how many Google accounts there are. Google will use a process called "hashing" to disguise the email addresses on both sides of the match and prevent any personally identifiable information from being exposed.

Google's Customer Match targeting option is similar to Facebook's three-year-old Custom Audiences and Twitter's two-year-old Tailored Audiences, but more pared down than the social networks' versions. All three products let brands target people based on their email addresses. However Facebook's also includes people's phone numbers, user IDs and mobile ad IDs, and Twitter's includes people's Twitter account handles.

As much as advertisers might appreciate this type of ad targeting -- and they're quite fond of Facebook's version -- people may not. So Google is doing a few things to make sure that brands aren't overstepping their bounds.

First Google will only let brands target email addresses that people have directly handed over to a brand. That means brands won't be able to buy a list of email addresses from some third-party vendor and then upload it to Google. The company has developed a way to verify the first-party relationship, but Google VP-Search Advertising Jerry Dischler declined to detail how that technology works because people may use that information to try to hack around the firewall.

While Google is using information that people voluntarily handed over to a brand -- usually when signing up for a rewards membership or subscribing to get emailed coupons -- the company seems to recognize that some people may not like brands using that information to target them with ads. If people don't like one of the ads they're shown, they'll be able to click a box on the ad that will explain why they're being shown that ad. Additionally they'll be presented with the option to adjust their ad settings and opt out of targeted advertising -- an option Google already provides -- as well as a link to the advertisers' email settings to opt out of receiving emails from that advertiser.

In addition to the Customer Match targeting option, Google is officially rolling out the universal app campaigns product it had announced in May 2015, which make it easier for companies to promote their mobile apps across Google's properties. To create these omni-ads, Google will takes the images, videos and descriptions attached to an Android app in its Play app store and plug them into ad templates that can appear on search results pages, the app store, YouTube and across Google's network of third-party sites.

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