Would you pay Google to scan your snail mail and forward it to your Gmail inbox? The search giant is trying to see if consumers would buy into a mail-scanning service to help Gmail replace your physical mailbox.
Google Inc. sent a survey to users of its Google Rewards app for Android seeking interest in such a program on Friday. The survey did not mention a fee, and by itself certainly doesn’t mean that the Mountain View, California-based tech titan is planning to offer a service, but it is an interesting premise.
Consumers may consider the junk mail that clogs their mailboxes a major annoyance, and a number of lawmakers have proposed “Do Not Mail” bills. Modeled after the popular “Do Not Call” lists that deter telemarketers, all legislation so far has stalled, facing objections from the mail marketing industry, the New York Times reported in 2012, adding that mail advertisements “now account for 48 percent of all mail.”
Google might be on to something by offering people a spam “filter” for their physical junk mail. Other than offering the service for a fee, Google could monetize it by scanning keywords the same way it does with Gmail. The practice allows it to create more in-depth profiles about its users, which it then uses to charge advertisers more for targeted ads.
By scanning people’s real mail as well as their emails, Google might learn a little bit more about a person’s spending habits, relationships and interests. However, the service would likely draw the ire of privacy experts and governments already wary of the company’s ability to collect personal data about its users.
There already are a number of mail-scanning services available that charge from $15 to $60 per month. Most offer users the options of having a message opened and scanned, shredded or physically forwarded to their address.
Meanwhile, post offices around the world have felt the pain from the growing use of email and online bill-paying services. The delivery volume of first-class mail has fallen every year since at least 2006, as the U.S. Postal Service increases its rates, slows delivery times and considers increasing the amount of advertisements it delivers while laying off its employees.
Google did not respond to a request for comment.