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Pinterest Experiments with Email Scanning to Enhance User Experience and Ad Targeting

Pinterest is testing a new system that scans users' email inboxes to customize their app experience. With user authorization, the platform aims to identify interests and serve custom content accordingly.

Pinterest Experiments with Scanning Emails to Tailor User Experience

Pinterest is exploring a novel approach that could potentially enhance ad targeting within the app: scanning your email inbox to customize your Pinterest experience.

According to Patent Drop, a platform that tracks registered patents, Pinterest recently filed a description of the new process. It entails scanning your inbox to glean more insight into your interests, which could inform what content you might want to see on Pinterest.

The system, with the user's authorization, would sift through an email account that a user has linked to their Pinterest account to identify potential areas of interest. Based on the findings, Pinterest would then serve custom content, auto-generate boards, and highlight posts based on your indicated interests.

For instance, if you subscribed to a gardening newsletter, Pinterest's AI might populate your boards with gardening tips and inspirations. If it discovered an email about travel bookings to Costa Rica, it might suggest outfit ideas or restaurant recommendations for your feed.

However, this approach raises significant privacy concerns, especially when data privacy is under intense scrutiny by many regulators. This system relies on a machine learning model, treating your emails as the dataset from which it learns. It evaluates emails to identify new topics of interest, update existing ones, or "simply record the information as user data as the basis of making further enhancements or revisions to the user’s preferences."

While this concept may prove beneficial in understanding user preferences and showing them related content, it seems unlikely many users would grant Pinterest access to scan their private messages.

Both regulators and users are increasingly concerned about data privacy. Encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp have seen significant growth, particularly in North America, as people retreat from public sharing to more private, secure messaging spaces.

In light of this, it appears challenging for Pinterest to convince a significant number of users to allow it to scan their emails. Moreover, ensuring its technology does not study spam, work, and personal emails while making predictions is another obstacle.

Interestingly, Google stopped scanning personal Gmail content for ad targeting in 2017 after facing significant criticism. Given that Pinterest CEO Bill Ready is a former Google executive, he would likely be aware of the negative reaction this approach previously received.

In the current data protection climate, it might be even less welcomed. However, Pinterest appears willing to explore if it can make this approach work as it seeks new methods to enhance ad targeting amid evolving data privacy changes.