Google claims here:


We strictly uphold responsible data practices designed to respect your privacy. That’s why we never use the content you create and store in apps like Drive, Gmail, and Photos for any ads purposes.

However, as recently as 2017 google was targeting ads based on users' gmail content, according to the New York Times:

Google plans to abandon its longstanding practice of scanning user email in its Gmail service to serve targeted advertising.

Is this not in violation of some U.S. law related to false/misleading advertising?

The phrase "we never use" seems to imply that this is something that they as a company would not ever do (which is untrue since they did it in the past), but it is unclear to me how this statement would be interpreted by regulatory agencies.

  • 2
    What is the date of the cited claim by Google? And does it differ from what they said in 2017?
    – user35069
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 16:53
  • Cited quote by Google is currently displayed on their website (as of 19 May 2021). It seems to imply (though does not directly claim) that they would never target ads based on users' gmail data, but as of 2017 they were targeting ads based on users' gmail data (and said that they would stop doing it). So the crux of my question is does the current statement by Google constitute false advertising in the sense that it implies that they have always been strongly against something that they have, in fact, only recently stopped doing.
    – nellapizza
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 18:15
  • 5
    So what you're saying is, they were doing it in 2017, claimed to stop doing it at that time, and now in 2021 they say they don't do it ("we never use" is present tense). I'm sorry, I'm not seeing the falsehood, but it's possible that the fact I work for them is biasing my opinion.
    – Kevin
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 19:35
  • 1
    Yours is not the only way to read "we never use." "We never use" can also be read as a statement about the conditions under which Google will use your data, rather than about the time when they will use it. In this reading, Google is saying, "As of the date of this statement, we will not, under any circumstances, scan your email." In this reading, "never" implies nothing about what Google did before it issued this statement.
    – Just a guy
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 22:53
  • 1
    @Justaguy Thanks, the distinction between conditions and time is helpful. I think this second possible reading was what I was missing and also clarifies what Google (giving them the benefit of the doubt) actually meant with this statement.
    – nellapizza
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 16:49

1 Answer 1


“We never use” means we don’t do it now

It’s different from “we have never used” and “we will never use”.

So long as Google don’t use the practice contemporaneously with making the statement, they are not engaging in false advertising.

  • Is the adverb "never" really meaningless, or would it be considered false if, when the company made the statement, it was demonstrably planning to start performing the indicated action?
    – supercat
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 16:16

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