Google has defended a new advertising tool that makes ads appear as if they were legitimate e-mails. It says the new system is less obtrusive for most users.
The change comes from the new tabbed inbox on Gmail. Unless you switch the feature off, the inbox is now divided into different sections covering the main inbox, messages from social networks, promotional e-mails, messages from discussion forums and update messages such as receipts or bills.
The idea is that people who don’t already use Gmail’s filtering tools can use the tabs to make it quicker to access particular types of e-mails, for example reading important messages now and leaving receipts or promotions until later.
Users have now started noticing that some of the messages in the Promotions tab aren’t actually e-mails at all, but in fact are ads carried by Google. Depending on the way the ad is set-up, clicking on it will either open a link or expand to show the full message in the same was as a real e-mail.
Google notes that this replaces the previous Gmail advertising which was a line above the main inbox or the folder you had open. It argues that placing it in the Promotions tab makes more sense as somebody opening that tab is inherently in a mood for dealing with promotional material.
It also stresses that despite the page design, these ads are not e-mails and that the advertisers don’t have any access to your e-mail address of other details.
There’s no way to mark the ads as spam (because Google doesn’t class them as e-mails), but you can close them and they will then be hidden until the next time you visit your inbox. You can also change your settings to block ads from a particular adverstiser.
Users who don’t have the tabbed inbox feature activated will continue to see ads in the usual position.