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Is Google Playing Fair With Groupon, et al? 193

Posted by timothy
from the maybe-there's-a-perfectly-reasonable-explanation dept.
An anonymous reader writes with the claim (illustrated with what seems like damning screen-shot evidence) that "Google is using Gmail's priority inbox to give special treatment to its own daily deal emails over all the rest."
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Is Google Playing Fair With Groupon, et al?

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  • wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Osgeld (1900440) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @07:36PM (#36579332)

    who would have thought a for profit company would ever try to push its products and services before the competition?

    • Re:wow (Score:5, Informative)

      by AlexBirch (1137019) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @07:47PM (#36579406) Homepage
      or slashdot / blog presenting bad evidence in order to get more views?
      Groupon is still marked as important for my gmail account.
    • Non-story (Score:5, Insightful)

      by exomondo (1725132) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @07:55PM (#36579474)

      who would have thought a for profit company would ever try to push its products and services before the competition?

      send yourself an email marked with 'high importance' and it ends up in your priority inbox...so google is sending their offer emails with 'high importance' where other companies aren't, how is this a story at all?

      • Re:Non-story (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sortius_nod (1080919) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:15PM (#36579586) Homepage

        It's not, looking at where the article is hosted, well, it's the ONLY post on a blog.

        Seems like a bunch of FUD to me. It seems "Kasey Moffat" (I suspect an invented character) created both a blog & twitter account just to do this.

        Alarm bells anyone?

        • by Zadaz (950521)

          Agreed. And sine Priority Inbox uses past behavior to track what's a priority and there's no record of what this user did with their email account before, their claims are unsubstantiated.

          It would also be trivial to Photoshop.

        • Re:Non-story (Score:4, Informative)

          by Skuld-Chan (302449) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:11PM (#36579896)

          I'd say it raises alarms because google offers doesn't do that on my email inbox...

        • by 1u3hr (530656)
          "Kasey Moffat"s blog has one and only one entry, the one linked here. And he Slashdot story was submitted by "anonymous".

          Who benefits from this? the "Groupon" spammers -- sorry, email marketers -- who are so unfairly not highlighted automatically by Google as "important". And Slashdot goes along with these SEO scumbags hyping a story.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I love how you can tell 5 comments into a story that slashdot is pulling the bullshit wool over everyone's eyes.
        • Re:Non-story (Score:4, Informative)

          by Mistlefoot (636417) on Monday June 27, 2011 @12:53AM (#36580764)
          Definitly.

          A reply on the original article is

          "Isaac said...

                  Google knows that you signed up for Google Offers because it's your own account.

                  They don't know the same thing about other daily offer emails because they do not have access to those other site's subscription information, and all these emails look like spam. So without that additional information available, how can Google tell the difference between spam/semi-spam and things that you sign up for? It can't, until you tell it they are important."
        • Well, the blog has Google Ads on it...any further questions?
      • by lennier1 (264730)

        Probably not marked in the usual sense but the Gmail system identifies it as something "privileged" and treats it accordingly.

        • by exomondo (1725132)
          well the priority inbox is essentially an attempt to separate solicited mail from unsolicited mail, they know their offers emails are solicited because you signed up for it with them and assuming you are opening offers emails from other companies over time it will determine those as being solicited too.
      • by matunos (1587263)

        Yeah, sounds like the issue isn't so much about anti-competitive behavior, but an abuse of the email priority settings.

        • by exomondo (1725132)
          they might not even be doing that, it's quite possible that given the priority email system is designed to distinguish between solicited and unsolicited mail they just put in an exception for google offers since they already know it's solicited.
      • Re:Non-story (Score:4, Interesting)

        by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo@@@world3...net> on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:45AM (#36581524) Homepage

        Priority inbox doesn't work like that. It looks at what emails have been read immediately and responded to quickly in the past to try and predict how important new emails are. If you immediately open Google's mails it will think they are important to you and put them in the priority category. If you do the same with Groupon they will end up in there too.

        It is the opposite of spam filtering and uses the same techniques. Instead of deciding what is crap it decides what is important.

    • Re:wow (Score:4, Funny)

      by man_of_mr_e (217855) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:17PM (#36579596)

      You know, it seems like Slashdot has become the place to go to enrage the geeks. Oh no! Google slaughters puppies and enslaves kittens. Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the Nerds of war!

    • People actually use "services" like Groupon and whatever this Google thing is? That's the real scoop to me, anyway.

      • by swillden (191260)

        People actually use "services" like Groupon and whatever this Google thing is? That's the real scoop to me, anyway.

        It surprises you that people like discounts on stuff?

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        Eh if it is anything like the Tigerdirect and Newegg daily deals I can understand it. I mean you'd have to be nuts NOT to want to pay less than half for stuff you were planning to get anyway. Just the other day I got a Samsung 1Tb Ecodrive for $35 with NO MIR crap. No refurb either. Seriously who can beat that?

        So while I don't use the above services if they are anything like the ones I do use I can see why. I've saved myself, my family, and my customers a ton of money by getting these daily emails. it has

  • so what (Score:5, Insightful)

    by acvh (120205) <<moc.sragicsm> <ta> <keeg>> on Sunday June 26, 2011 @07:39PM (#36579348) Homepage

    google gives you a free email account, then uses it to market stuff to you. why would anyone be surprised, or upset? there are many free email options out there, use another one if you don't like how this one works.

    • by Palmsie (1550787)

      I think people are missing the point. Of course this is not surprising. Of course a for-profit company wants to advertise their own products. Of course they want you to use their stuff before you use Groupon et al. Of course. The point is, Google touts itself as providing a fair service that doesn't favor its own services (as conflicting as that may be). It claims that its algorithms are unbiased. I think that is all the author was trying to point out (i.e. they may not be as unbiased as Google is touting t

      • I think people are missing the point. Of course this is not surprising. Of course a for-profit company wants to advertise their own products. Of course they want you to use their stuff before you use Groupon et al. Of course. The point is, Google touts itself as providing a fair service that doesn't favor its own services (as conflicting as that may be). It claims that its algorithms are unbiased. I think that is all the author was trying to point out (i.e. they may not be as unbiased as Google is touting themselves to be... as unsurprising as it is). A small point but an important one.

        Google may be in a monopoly or nearabouts position in search, but they definitely do not have a monopoly over email. If their search algorithms were biased in favor of their products, that would be a big deal for an antitrust case. Biased email prioritization? Not so much. Using one product as leverage to promote another is legal, like it or not, and it happens all the time. Only when you use a product that is in a monopoly position as leverage does that become illegal.

        Personally, I read email in thunder

        • by swillden (191260)
          It's not illegal, but it's also not Google's style. My bet is that it was an accident, and that it will be fixed.
      • This is a tempest in a teapot. I have already marked Groupon as having a low priority in my Priority Inbox, so that is where that comes in. I also get Google Offers. The first time it came in as important. I then marked it unimportant, and it never showed up there again.

        If Google kept putting their deals in my priority inbox, I would have been upset.

        Now if they had marked my mother-in-law's emails as important, I would have gone back to hotmail.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          I agree, unless more information comes to light that makes this some sort of nefarious plot, this just doesn't sound like it's a big deal. As it stands now, I'm not really sure why I as a gmail user should care. It's not like Google is preventing me from getting those messages or ensuring that they are brought to my attention. For emails of priority, they always got their own label anyways. Google hasn't taken away that option either.

      • by zill (1690130)

        Google touts itself as providing a fair service that doesn't favor its own services (as conflicting as that may be)

        No, they don't. Unless you provide evidence of this, you are wrong.

        According to Google's TOS: [google.com]

        4.2 Google is constantly innovating in order to provide the best possible experience for its users. You acknowledge and agree that the form and nature of the Services which Google provides may change from time to time without prior notice to you.

        4.3 As part of this continuing innovation, you acknowledge and agree that Google may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users generally at Google’s sole discretion, without prior notice to you. You may stop using the Services at any time. You do not need to specifically inform Google when you stop using the Services.

        4.4 You acknowledge and agree that if Google disables access to your account, you may be prevented from accessing the Services, your account details or any files or other content which is contained in your account.

        4.5 You acknowledge and agree that while Google may not currently have set a fixed upper limit on the number of transmissions you may send or receive through the Services or on the amount of storage space used for the provision of any Service, such fixed upper limits may be set by Google at any time, at Google’s discretion.

        Basically Google says: we can change our service at any time. We can stop our service at any time. You can lose access to your data at any time. We can limit your data usage at any time. Nowhere do they claim to "providing a fair service that doesn't favor its own services".

        Corporations are not here to help you pursue happiness. They're here to take every cent out of your wallet, and then take your wallet. Why woul

    • Re:so what (Score:5, Insightful)

      by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:08PM (#36579550) Homepage Journal
      You also have to keep in mind there are 2 perspectives here, the perspective of the email user and the perspective of the advertiser. If someone pays to put an ad on Google, they expect Google to place that ad in accordance with whatever contract they signed. If Google is taking their money and then still advertising it's own products over theirs, then that is definitely a conflict of interest.
      • by drolli (522659)

        Well. But nobody paid google to put deliver the ad via gmail.

      • by swillden (191260)

        You also have to keep in mind there are 2 perspectives here, the perspective of the email user and the perspective of the advertiser. If someone pays to put an ad on Google, they expect Google to place that ad in accordance with whatever contract they signed. If Google is taking their money and then still advertising it's own products over theirs, then that is definitely a conflict of interest.

        Besides the other objection already noted, I think Google's model of for-pay advertising inoculates them from conflict of interest. You see, advertisers only pay for the ads that users (a) see and (b) click on. So if Google chooses to advertise its own products over a client's, the client actually didn't, and doesn't, pay at all.

        If that situation were to arise (and, as the other poster noted, I don't think that's a reasonable description of this case, since Groupon didn't pay Google anything to deliver

    • by black3d (1648913)

      They even say they will when you sign up..

      17. Advertisements

      17.1 Some of the Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions. These advertisements may be targeted to the content of information stored on the Services, queries made through the Services or other information.

      17.2 The manner, mode and extent of advertising by Google on the Services are subject to change without specific notice to you.

    • by drolli (522659)

      Yes, and there are even more non-free ones. Having email without any PITA and weird TOS is worth 50Euro/Year.

  • Just a thought (Score:5, Insightful)

    by liquidweaver (1988660) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @07:42PM (#36579366)
    So, some random blogger posts a screenshot and we implicitly trust it's contents? I could do this with Greasemonkey to GIMP. I am no Google apologist, but my spidey sense it tingling like when I get an email full of "Amazing Pictures" from my grandma.
    • Re:Just a thought (Score:5, Interesting)

      by liquidweaver (1988660) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @07:43PM (#36579378)
      FYI, he is censoring his blog. I asked the same question there, and it's been magically erased.
    • Re:Just a thought (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anarchduke (1551707) on Monday June 27, 2011 @12:23AM (#36580668)
      Oh no, its a real screen shot. The blogger signed up a new google account with google priority inbox which automatically places messages from google as part of the important stuff. so all the other spamvertisements in the inbox Google doesn't see as important, seeing as how there is no history of that google account ever opening any of those mails.
      To sum up
      1. new account w/ no history
      2. mail from google is considered important by default
      3. there are no other email addresses considered important by the algorithm because there is no history on the account.

      Result: The google mail is the only email the algorithm treated as important!

      Obviously, it must be an act of evil by Google.
  • Damning screenshot evidence? No way that can be faked.

  • by Meshach (578918) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @07:43PM (#36579382)
    I wonder if that message is marked as important because you read the other message from Google (the Welcome message)? I can only assume that messages are marked important / non-important based on your reading habits and with so little to go on maybe that is all it takes for GMail to consider the message "Important"?
    • Here is what the guy says in the article:

      4. I didn't open any of the resulting subscription confirmation emails. Since Priority Inbox sorts emails based on your reading/replying history, I didn't want to give Priority Inbox any additional information about which daily deals emails to prioritize the next day.

      Frankly, he could have faked it, but it is an experiment any of us could repeat in two days, so it would make him look like an idiot.

      Personally though, it's really hard for me to care one way or the other. At worst, it's probably some fluke of the algorithm Google uses, and can be rectified easily by reading a couple emails from the company that you want. It's not like they are shoving it into spam or something where you will never read it.

    • by black3d (1648913)

      Google marks their own mails as important by default. Mark them as unimportant if you don't want them showing up. Whether it's a notice about daily deals, account changes, service notifications, whatever - their own mailing are marked as important to begin with. (Hey, it's their free service, after all). It even says this in the service details for priority inbox. This is a bunch of noise about nothing.

      Coming up next: Blogger discovers Microsoft advertises their own services in ads on their sites more than

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Well, to be fair, the ones that represent account changes and service notifications could reasonably be assumed to be important.

        • by swillden (191260)

          Well, to be fair, the ones that represent account changes and service notifications could reasonably be assumed to be important.

          I strongly suspect that the cause of the offer prioritization is a rule that was put in place to accomplish exactly that, and that it never occurred to anyone to make an exception for offers in that rule.

      • by swillden (191260)

        It even says this in the service details for priority inbox.

        Where does it say that? I've looked and can't find it.

        • by black3d (1648913)

          17. Advertisements

          17.1 Some of the Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions. These advertisements may be targeted to the content of information stored on the Services, queries made through the Services or other information.

          17.2 The manner, mode and extent of advertising by Google on the Services are subject to change without specific notice to you.

          17.3 In consideration fo

          • by swillden (191260)

            Hmm, okay. So not anything related specifically to Priority Inbox, but the "manner, mode and extent" being "subject to change" would certainly seem to cover it.

            My money is still on this being an unintentional side effect of a rule intended to boost the priority of service notifications, account changes, etc.

            • by black3d (1648913)

              Sorry yes, you're right I should have worded my original post differently. Something along the lines of "signed up for a service which says that you will be targetted with specific advertising in a multitude of forms and locations", and the priority inbox falls into the umbrella of services.

              I agree that it's an unintentional side-effect. All Google mails being treated as priority messages. I was just trying to point out that he can't complain about receiving targetted advertising messages when he signed up

    • by black3d (1648913)

      The service description says that Google mails will be prioritized by default. He VOLUNTARILY signed up for a service which says he'll receive priority mails from Google, and then complains that he receives priority mails from Google. Alas, most people are stupid and he'll probably get some air-time for his theory (and already has).

      • by black3d (1648913) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:32PM (#36579670)

        Interesting.. I posted a comment pointing out that the service agreement says he'll get Google mails as priority messages and that he can opt-out of them, and after it was up for a few minutes, he deleted the comment.

        So pretty much, it is as above. He signed up for a service which says he'll get priority Google emails by default when activated, and then starts complaining that exactly that is happening. What a douche.

        • by black3d (1648913)

          For prosperity's sake, posted to his Blog.. wonder how long this will last:

          ---------

          Interesting.. I point out that you signed up for a Google service which says you'll get priority Google emails by default when activated, and you complain when exactly that happens. .. And you delete my comment.

          Perhaps think through your article again, taking this into account rather than just deleting comments pointing out the obvious. Or perhaps learn to read service agreements when signing up for services. For instance, t

          • by black3d (1648913)

            Yep.. he deleted that one too. Obviously he knows he's in the wrong if he has to take to deleting comments.

    • Even if he didn't open the welcome message, it might have marked it as important because it found another 'important' email with some similar contents such as being from Google.
    • To be honest, I think the article is 90%+ sleaze. They're insinuating that Google (the organization) is anti-competitive because they defaulted to promoting their own service, as part of a user-customizable feature, and one (let's not forget) that's actually very simple to correct.

      Three things.

      One, as I said, it can be changed. Downvote the google offers, upvote your mother.

      Two, the thing about a lot of google's services is that they're algorithm-based. The funny thing about algorithms is a high rate of

      • Maybe it's just me, but I've never heard of any of those "competing services."

        Thus, we locate the last person on Earth who has not heard of GroupOn.

        Rejoice, friend, because you are lucky soul.

        • I meant specifically the ones in the screenshot: Tippr, yipit, homerun, scoutmob. Looking at it again, I see Groupon and Living Social listed, which I have heard of.

      • by macshit (157376)

        To be honest, I think the article is 90%+ sleaze. They're insinuating that Google (the organization) is anti-competitive because they defaulted to promoting their own service, as part of a user-customizable feature, and one (let's not forget) that's actually very simple to correct.

        Hmm, it appears that MS has budgeted some astroturfing to along with their anti-Google lobbying push...

  • Do you know how easy it is to create a filter to de-prioritize emails in Gmail? Gmail filters are the easiest things in the world to use. I don't know why ANYONE would complain about this when they can correct it in about three clicks.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      They could be easier to use, but they're hardly difficult to use. I mostly wish they'd beef them up to make it easier to have long lists of things going to the same label and a more efficient way of collecting all my order confirmations under the same label. But, it's really not difficult to use as is.

    • by vux984 (928602)

      Do you know how easy it is to create a filter to de-prioritize emails in Gmail? Gmail filters are the easiest things in the world to use. I don't know why ANYONE would complain about this when they can correct it in about three clicks.

      Conversely... I don't know why google would need to automatically prioritize their offers, since anyone who wanted them marked priority could do it themselves in 3 clicks.

      That said... I don't know anyone on the planet who actually wants daily marketing email messages automatic

  • The Screen Shot isn't daming google. In fact, all it shows is that the default setting for importance for Google offers on Gmail is High. Go figure. This is another case of a nho news story getting by meta moderation. Cmon guys. We can do better than this.
  • Cross selling or bundling is only an issue if there is a monopoly. Gmail is hardly a monopoly. Gmail is 3rd behind Microsoft and Yahoo for webmail market share.
  • Why would any "offer", obviously bulk mail, ever go into the "Priority inbox"? Even if you wanted it, it should go into the "Bulk" folder.

  • by Nimey (114278) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:55PM (#36580100) Homepage Journal

    I strongly suspect you did it to drive page hits.

  • Google doesn't have a monopoly in e-mail. Not even close. They can - legally and ethically - use their e-mail service to market whatever they want to you. If they want, they can fill your inbox with spam about Google Docs, Google Maps, Android. If you don't like it, go somewhere else.

    I'm getting a bit sick of bogus "anti-competitive" stories. Restrictions on this sort of thing only apply *if you're a monopoly*. If you're not, you can do all the cross promotion and bundling you want. Consumers get to de

  • ... since everyone and his brother is getting into this game. Out of the blue I started getting "daily local deals" from Amazon - and they just signed me up without asking. Facebook's done that as well.

    I don't like Google mis-using its position in this case; but (once it's offered in my area) I'd be more upset about getting opted-in automatically than what priority the email arrives with. I don't want to get these sorts of emails, period. I've got a twitchy trigger finger when it comes to flagging spam.

  • by John Jamieson (890438) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @10:56PM (#36580342)

    Is slashdot trying to chase away customers by posting more and more troll pieces?

  • This is the source for this bit of "news".
    Come on, Slashdot... don't disappoint me... :-(
  • The opt-in SPAM from you shows up on the top of your free e-mail service, above all the other opt-in SPAM I get. I don't see how your SPAM could possibly be more important than other SPAM on your own service. This is unfair, and I call shenanigans. Now excuse me while I go and purchase some more coupons for massages and manicures.

  • If I write up some hack job on the merits of an antitrust case against Comcast vis a vis Google do you think Timothy will post it as a question? "Should the FTC be suing Comcast instead of Google?"

    For lots of people Comcast is their only realistic choice for broadband. Same with Time Warner. Those companies, as far as I'm concerned, exercise true monopoly power. I can switch my search provider in exactly 1 second. If I want to select a different broadband provider I have to figure out a way to bolt a s

  • GMail is not in a position of market dominance, at least not according to TFS. So, it's a free service funded by ads, and it promotes them using built-in system of the service? Somehow I don't see an issue here. However, if somebody feels they're getting spam they did not opt in to and can't unsubscribe from, then I'm sure there's room for juicy lawsuit, based on spam laws. But that's not the case here, is it?

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