A hot potato: In the current climate of heightened privacy, Google and other tech giants have shied away from scanning users' e-mail for the purpose of gathering information to sell to advertisers. Oath, the Verizon subsidiary that owns AOL and Yahoo, however, is apparently doubling down on the controversial practice.

According to a recent report from The Wall Street Journal, Oath has been pitching a service to advertisers which analyzes more than 200 million Yahoo inboxes for data about products a consumer may be interested in purchasing.

A person familiar with the matter told the publication that the practice at Yahoo began more than a decade ago and has expanded over the years. Oath even said the practice extends to AOL Mail.

Doug Sharp, Oath's vice president of data, measurements and insights, told the Journal that the practice only applies to commercial e-mails in a user's account, like those from a retailer or a mass mailing. The system ignores personal e-mails and strips out all identifiable information from the data it does use, Sharp noted.

"E-mail is an expensive system," Sharp said. "I think it's reasonable and ethical to expect the value exchange, if you've got this mail service and there is advertising going on."

What's ironic is that Yahoo also offers an ad-free e-mail service for $3.49 per month but it, too, scans e-mails for advertising purposes. Like in the free version, users of the paid version can opt out of e-mail scanning.

Google was guilty of the practice for more than a decade to show relevant ads while users were looking at Gmail but said last year it would stop scanning free user inboxes. Microsoft told the Journal it has never used e-mail data for advertising purposes.

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