How to avoid ads in Gmail (or not)

Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

Someone called Joester is purporting to show us how to block out gmail ads by using magic words in email messages, such as 9/11 or "suicide."  In other words, the ads that appear when your email is catastrophe-free:

...are gone when the email you receive contains trigger words:
But it's not as easy as it sounds. Putting the key words in a signature file doesn't work; the ads return. Also, writes Joester:
If the message runs long google turns the ads back on. However, if you add another "sensitive" word they go off again. After extensive testing I've discovered you need 1 catastrophic event or tragedy for every 167 words in the rest of the email.
Questions remain. What are all the trigger words? How do you avoid scaring the people who receive your emails with your seemingly pointless references to incest and gang rape? More importantly, shouldn't this be more accurately described as a method for helping the people who you email who have gmail avoid ads?

Link (via Adlab)


  1. I just want to know how I can get them to stop advertising mail-order brides whenever I write to my Asian American friends. Yuck.

  2. To be fair, I think it is mildly unethical to go out of your way to block ads on a free service that derives its revenue from those very non-intrusive, non-popup ads. Not to mention I for one find the ads far less jarring than the occurence of the words “suicide” and “rape” in my incoming mail.

    Cool find nevertheless.

  3. The google email ads are tolerable – I just ignore them (or laugh at some of the funny hits I get). It’s the floating, animated, AJAXy, and other obtrusive and annoying ads that get on my nerves (and one of many reasons I no longer use my Y! mail)

  4. It’s problematic enough that the exact words, “Hey Dude” are a sign of the dark matter assaulting our advertising sensibilities, but having to avoid these blipverts by subversively disguising our intended messages is even more frightening. Oh, and after that trauma, the mysterious phone calls at 2:00am.

  5. I’m amused that most of the ads in that first screenshot are concerning nickelodeon shows. Hidden Temple (Legends of the…), Hey Dude, Spongebob, even the ad at the top is for GUTS. It makes me wonder what you write about in your emails that triggers these sorts of ads!

  6. @3

    “To be fair, I think it is mildly unethical to go out of your way to block ads on a free service that derives its revenue from those very non-intrusive, non-popup ads.”

    To be fair, I think you’re wrong. Furthermore, there is nothing unethical about it, because it is *Google* who has decided to temporarily not display the ads. If Google wanted to display the ads regardless of the ‘catastrophes,’ they would…and can…and do, if the ‘catastrophes’ don’t reappear.

    And just because Google isn’t displaying the ads doesn’t mean that they aren’t data-mining your message anyway, and selling some statistics based on what you are writing about to marketers.

    I object to data-mining of email, free or not, which is why I tell my friends about how Google is paying for the “free” email it is offering them.

  7. @2: Yes, I can’t imagine how gaudy the internet is for those whom aren’t using this plugin (there is something similar for safari as well).

  8. Ok, so can anyone explain WHY the adds disappear? What causes it?

    I feel it’s a bit conspiracy theorist to believe that it’s because your mail is being intercepted, but could that be the cause?

    Is the NSA honestly going to dig through millions of mails with the words ‘9/11’ in them?

    Is it perhaps to show respect for people who have encountered some sort of tragedy in their lives? Not being bombarded for adverts for funeral homes the moment you send a mail to everyone telling them a family member has been murdered or something?

  9. Hi all :)

    Hmmm… The best way to avoid Ads in Gmail is, imho,to use the Firefox Addon NoScript and block the Javascript for …

    But I agree with the Anonymous who wrote:

    «The google email ads are tolerable – I just ignore them (or laugh at some of the funny hits I get).»

    To speak frankly I like Gmail Ads:

    poeple pay for these targetted ads but in my experience with Gmail they are out of the target most of the time… ;)

    Keep cool! :)

  10. adblock? doesn’t work… the adverts are in a frame you need to see unless you know better on how to get rid of them

    noscript? still see them even if googleusercontent is not allowed. They’re there as text links

    anyway, if enough people keep complaining about them being there by using the feedback link and telling them to turn them off, perhaps they might listen… then again, you could always walk… but googlemail is about the least instrusive web based email service for ads.

    anyway, here’s googles position on why they don’t show ads in emails containing catastrophic news

    “Privacy is an issue we take very seriously. Only ads classified as Family-Safe are distributed through our content network and to your Gmail inbox. For example, Google would block certain ads from running next to an email about catastrophic news.”

  11. Great! Now we just need to figure out a way around the new ads in MSNBC’s RSS feeds. It’s like voluntarily signing up for spam.

  12. @TheCrawNotTheCraw #10: I didn’t say illegal, just unethical, and if I may clarify I think it’s pretty much on the fence but it is somewhat quibbling if you block the ads, especially, when as other people have pointed out they’re pretty innocuous ones.

    As for your data mining claim, any proof that they sell data mined statistics? That’s a pretty szerious allegations there, and if they’re using the content of the email for anything more than context specific ad placement it is creepy.

    @Larkin: I suspect the reason the ads go away, is that google is afraid of an inappropriate ad faux pas when the email is about fairly serious things that might be serious and disturbing to the reader.

  13. I have developed the zen ability to totally disregard 99% of all web advertising. I’m barely even consciously aware of it’s presence. Heck, I just had to open my gmail account to verify that there were ads there.

  14. I doubt Google has any regard for faux pas or sensitivity toward our feelings. I think it’s because the advertisers do not want their products and services to be mentioned on the same page as something that makes the reader react negatively.

    I can’t even remember the last time I knowingly read a Google Ad. But they’re probably coming in on a subconscious level anyway, especially since I’m one of those readers who takes in blocks of text at a time. Advertising people know how this works and use it to manipulate us.

  15. @Manicbassman – Firefox 3.5 and Adblock Plus equals zero Gmail ads. Just checked it, there’s a line saying “About these links” but nothing else.

  16. Over the years, I have heard stories about [NSA/other government agency] checking emails against word list.

    I really want to send all my emails with words “9/11 suicide murder death”. Seems like a good way to get your bank account freezed.

  17. If you are afraid of NSA blocking your money if you write blasphemous word in an email, it means NSA is a terrorist organization!

    Going back in topic, it does not work if the magic words are written in Italian. Should I complain to the customer service?

  18. Yeah, but it takes two to tango. I don’t think he’s thought his cunning plan all the way through.

    “Dear My Boss,

    I’ve updated Tuesday’s TPS Report.

    P.S. Suicide murder 9/11 death”


    “Dear Mom,

    Can’t wait to see you at Christmas. Will Uncle Bob be there?

    P.S. Suicide murder 9/11 death”


    “My angel, my all, my very self. My immortal beloved. My heart is full of so many things to say to you – remain my true, my only treasure, my all as I am yours.

    P.S. Suicide murder 9/11 death”

  19. #21 Adonai is right. Firefox, NoScript, adblock+ :
    I get no ads.

    When I read the story I even said to myself “what ads?”
    I have no idea if it’s NoScript or adblock+ or both that results in the ads not appearing.

    I still get the ads on the blue line above the “archive” and “delete” buttons. But they really can be amusingly off base sometimes.

  20. @10 So if you don’t like, then don’t use it. Simple. But going on and on about how oh noes! teh Googlz in my brainz! is kinda silly.

    As for the ads, what do y’all want ? Running Google costs money – get over it. It’s the deal we made when we (freely) decided to use their services…

  21. Poison also works, as evidenced by the no ads on an email I got about a Poison/Def Leppard concert.

  22. So, if I understand it correctly…

    Small text-based ads in Gmail = BAD, should be blocked.

    Big, imaged-based ads on BoingBoing = GOOD, should be read and clicked-through so that BoingBoing gets money from HP, Sprint, Toyota, Microsoft, and Federated Media.

  23. To make the words less obtrusive, one could write them in “invisible” (that is, white) ink. nIf the message is short, they would still appear in the preview, though.

  24. I use Gmail and I’m not bothered by advertisements.

    On the other hand, I use Gmail through and Thunderbird

    Frankly, given how often drive-by trojans affect advertisements, I am not about to use a web browser for important communications (or other important work for that matter.) Using the web for important or critical work strikes me about as sensible as a campfire in drought striken woods, wall-to-wall carpeting in a basement, or an adjustable rate mortgage.

  25. Man, I knew buying Google ads to advertise my new gang rape murder suicide business was a bad idea…

  26. Maybe I’m just stating the obvious, but I’ve been using gmail for a few years, and I’ve never seen ad ad. And this doesn’t come from trying to subvert the system at all.

    I download my email via POP. It is as simple as that. There are no ads.

  27. #18, I have to say I think it’s definitely more about Google trying to be sensitive than it is about advertisers not wanting their ads to be associated with anything negative. I’m quite certain that some advertisers are buying keywords for serious and disturbing topics.

    See, my son was born without a left hand. I recently had a long conversation about it over Gmail, and was delivered these delightful ads:

    Finger Wound, Amputation?
    ACell MatriStem Powder for Healing
    Wounds, As seen on, CBS, Fox

    “Fetal Baby Dopplers” $69
    (F-D-A Approved) Free Shipping
    Hear HeartBeat Early as 7 Weeks!

    Table Saw Accident?
    Have you been hurt in a table saw
    accident? We can help.

    Have Chronic Pain?
    It may be Fibromyalgia or CFS. Get
    our newsletter. Call us for free.

    As a friend of mine said about Table Saw Attorney, “Do you suppose that’s what he dreamed of doing when he grew up?”

  28. If Adblock Plus is not enough, get “Element Hiding helper”:
    IT lets you select precise HTML elements which you want to hide (for example those containing textual ads) and is good not only for google but also other sites.

    I got it in order to block Facebook ads because they were all in Norwegian. They should change their GeoIP provider or update the lists.

  29. An astonishing amount of effort for something that gets you… what? I don’t even see the adverts. Like many web users, I’ve trained myself to avoid looking at them, and done it virtually unconsciously. Makes me wonder what’s going to happen to the ad-supported online world we’re used to these days.

    Does mean a problem though – sometimes I can’t find my way around websites which put their navigation in structures which look a lot like adverts.

    1. I’ve trained myself to avoid looking at them

      I don’t think that AdBlock exists because people hate looking at ads. It exists because so many ads have toxic scripts that freeze up your browser, movies/animations that eat up bandwidth, and are hosted on inadequate servers so that your page content doesn’t load until one of the ads spends five minutes loading.

  30. It seems to me that this is a pretty genuine attempt by google to be sensitive to people who are talking about difficult things in their lives. By using this courtesy for convenience we only risk eliminating it for those whose lives could be made better by it…

    suck it up/adblock it and leave it for those who may actually be dealing with a “suicide” “murder” or “9/11 death”


  31. Non-text ads should load last, or at least give up quickly and gracefully when flash 10 or whatever plugin they want to use isn’t there.

    I read joystiq as well as BB, and 1 in 5 times I have to reload the page due to some kind of hijack. (scrolling doesn’t work)

    – GimpWii

  32. #THEFUTURE in order for web pages to make money on ads quite often one has to click through. Are we ‘ethically’ obliged to do that as well?

  33. “How do you avoid scaring the people who receive your emails with your seemingly pointless references to incest and gang rape”

    haha! That is brilliant.

  34. Trouble is, if one method of circumventing the ads becomes common, Google will simply come up with another (potentially even more obnoxious) method of serving them that’s designed to circumvent the circumvention. As several people have noted, the ads are how they pay for the (free) service. If the ads go away, so does the service.

    I’m certainly willing to allow Google the opportunity to recoup some of their costs in exchange for what they’re giving me. If you don’t want ads, pay thirty bucks a year for a SpamCop account – presto, no ads.

  35. By beginning with AdBlock Plus, then going on to redirect all those ad-serving and statistics-gathering sites by pointing them at in the hosts file, I have pretty-much got rid of internet advertising.

    If people think that makes me some sort of slimy internet parasite — fine; the ads make me feel worse than people thinking that!

  36. Firefox + AdBlock Plus + BetterGmail (also useful for other thing, like opening mailto: links in Gmail) make the ads disappear without scaring your grammy.

  37. Thanks for the blogging and all the interest.
    For those who want to use a 3rd party plug-in to solve the problem – I wonder, would you have told John Draper there were better ways to get 2600 hertz? Sometimes an elegant hack is not the most efficient way to solve a problem, but the inefficiency itself can serve a second purpose.
    This page, like much of my other artwork, raises questions about the world we live in in a humorous manner that asks the participant to gauge their willingness to be complicit in our current cyberculture. Google has given us “free” email which we pay for with our eyeballs. I have shown how we can remove the quotes around free but in so doing we must speak about unspeakable things. Is it worth it? Google is probably not selling our information (Facebook), or giving it to the government (AT&T, MCI, Sprint), but who’s to say they won’t in the future?
    Finally, joester is my email handle, but I’m not sure why boingboing implied that my name is a mystery, it’s in both the images they used and on my homepage.
    Joe McKay

  38. >#6: barely even notice ’em. I can’t see it’d be the effort to try and block them.

    “God, I’m thirsty for a Cuke”

  39. So easy! I merely have to train everybody who might send me an email to use this unobtrusive technique!!

    Please send me a list of everybody who might send me an email so I can get started! TIA!!!

  40. #44 posted by Piers W, August 1, 2009 3:16 PM

    #THEFUTURE in order for web pages to make money on ads quite often one has to click through. Are we ‘ethically’ obliged to do that as well?


    You are wrong, you can also make money by how often the ad is shown on your website.

  41. Between work and home I’ve usually had several e-mail addesses – too many to check at all the sites throughout each day, several times. For me, an e-mail client that downloads them all to my computer, provides me with one spot to read them (ad-free) and respond quickly with one set of tools, has been the only way to go for over a decade. My current favorite is Windows Mail.

  42. Well, it would be nice if they had a link for
    ‘sorry, this ad doesn’t now, or ever apply to my interests’.

    Now I gotta go cut some wood with my table saw. It’s been acting up lately, though..

  43. All the people who claim not to notice the ads are right. This phenomenon is called “banner blindness” and has been recognized by Web designers for years and years (funny example:

    Personally, I’ve never been bothered by the ads, and in fact am frequently amused when I happen to notice them. And based on the research I’ve seen, I’d be willing to bet the sum of all the milliseconds your eyes have spent flitting over Gmail text ads in your entire life so far is less than the time it takes to download and configure blockers for them. I’m all about free stuff on the Internet, but it’s a little silly that some people seem to think they have a constitutional right to ad-free browsing because some poorly-designed ads on poorly-designed sites might potentially have harmful scripts that slow down their browser. Uh huh, and all those games you download are “backups,” right?

    What really scares me is, a few weeks ago I hurt my knee, and gmail was serving me knee-injury-related ads BEFORE I HAD EVEN EMAILED ANYONE ABOUT IT. Spooky!

  44. You could try typing in some trigger words and changing the font color to white (or whatever BG color you use)

  45. #55 Anonymous

    I’m often wrong, and more often wrong on the internets than anywhere else.

    My point was that I’m not ethically or in any other way obliged to facilitate somebody’s website’s revenue model. I need a reason, good will for example, to bother.

  46. I thought google was better than Yahoo email because people ketp saying so, but after signing up for gmail, i found the whole page was full with ads. very dissapointing. I, then, went back to Yahoo Mail =] The only ad (1) you see there, is a banner all the way to the left, you only see it if you want to.

    Google offers other great services such as Google voice and… MAPS :D but for email, Yahoo or any other provider is best. =]

  47. I dont like any advertisements in gmail.really its time wasting and sometimes it contains some hot i dont want any advertisements in my gmail

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