(Gawkwire.com)  65 per cent of Britons are unaware that their free email provider may be scanning their personal emails for advertising purposes, according to research released today by GMX, www.gmx.co.uk, the free email service with more than 13 million active users.  Remarkably, the figure is an increase from the 40 per cent found to be unaware of the issue back in 2008.  This year’s survey of 1580 UK adults(1) shows that the vast majority of people feel negatively towards the practice, with 56 per cent concerned and 19 per cent anxious about it.  More than half of those surveyed want the ability to opt out.  1 in 4 Britons is now taking issues of personal privacy such as this more seriously than in the past.  Only 9 per cent of respondents were both aware of ad-scanning by providers and had considered this when signing up to their provider.  Upon learning of the issue, 1 in 4 users (26 per cent) believe it could affect their next choice of provider.

GMX’s latest ‘Attitudes to Email’ study finds that whilst the British public are heavy users of free email services, the vast majority of consumers is still unaware that it is common practice at some large email providers to scan private emails for keywords that are then linked to targeted advertising.  Awareness of the practice has fallen in recent years, with two thirds of respondents currently unaware of it.  There is a significantly higher degree of understanding within men, with 14 per cent higher awareness than in women.  The level of awareness was remarkably equal across age groups.  The North East and Northern Ireland were most unaware that their emails may be scanned in this way (57 per cent), whilst Wales was most aware, with 31 per cent alert to this.

The vast majority of consumers feel negatively about their emails being scanned in order for suitable advertisements to be placed around them.  Negative responses range from embarrassment (5 per cent) to concern (56 per cent) to real anxiety (16 per cent).  Once aware of the issue, over half of Britons (56 per cent) believe that users should be able to opt out of such scanning should they wish, a rise of 23 per cent from 2008.  15 per cent of respondents are not bothered by the practice and only 2 per cent believe it would be in their best interest.  The most dissatisfied with the activity was the 35-44 year old demographic.  By geographical location, Northern Ireland was by far the most concerned region, with 97 per cent of respondents feeling negative about the issue.

Interestingly, the research reveals that the importance placed on the issue varies between genders. Whilst 21 per cent of male respondents were not bothered by the practice, only 12 per cent of woman felt as reassured.  Women wish to exercise more control over the privacy of their personal email content.  Nearly two thirds of women (60 per cent) feel that users should be able to opt out of ad scanning, as compared to 49 per cent of male customers.  Very few of either gender believe that the practice can bring benefit to them.

All email providers, including GMX, automatically scan incoming email traffic in order to identify risks to the user such as SPAM emails and viruses.  However, GMX is a provider that does not analyse the contents of its customers’ private emails for advertising purposes.

Eva Heil, Managing Director, GMX, said, "Many of our competitors continue to use private email content in the body of emails to tailor advertising to the individual user.  With public awareness of this practice still low, we believe it is important that every user is at least informed about the usage of private email communication for tailoring advertising".

Furthermore, the GMX study finds much opposition to the scanning of children’s email content for advertising purposes.  Some 46 per cent feel that parents should be clearly informed if this is being carried out.  Furthermore, nearly half of Britons (48 per cent) feel that the practice should be banned for children’s email accounts.  The strongest support for this (56 per cent) comes from the 55 years+ age group.

Heil added, "British consumers should bear in mind that there is a choice of free email services on the market that don’t do this. If they are uncomfortable with the practice either for their own or their children’s email, they should change provider.  At GMX, we continue to view emails to be like sealed letters, and so we will never scan private email content for ad reasons". 

With over 13 million active users, GMX draws on over a decade of free email expertise and is well placed to offer a reliable, secure service.  Besides great looks, great performance and state-of-the-art functionality, GMX.co.uk offers the widest selection of first-choice addresses such as yourname@gmx.co.uk.

Free email has grown up, find it at GMX.  The new free email service can be seen at www.gmx.co.uk    

(1) 1581 UK adults surveyed by OpinionMatters via electronic feedback

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