The world's biggest advertising company is preparing to push adverts into its Android mobile Gmail client, no doubt to the surprise and alarm of fandroids who thought their private data was recompense enough.
The news comes from Android Police, which has been busily dismantling the latest version of the Gmail app for Android (version 4.6) – where it discovered identifying strings, presentation styles and controls as well as a new icon matching the one used within Gmail's web client to indicate "a message from our sponsors".
For the time being, the ads update only applies to Gmail for Android, but you can bet Google will be planning the same ads push for its iOS, Blackberry, Kindle Fire and Windows Phone clients.
The controls permit the user to save promotional messages – presumably those containing vouchers or tokens – and mark when a message has been dismissed.
New layout items include "AdBorderItem", "AdHeaderItem" and "AdTeaserView" which gives little indication of how they might appear but demonstrates they'll be well integrated into the Gmail experience.
Other new features in 4.6 include "darker" UI icons; the disappearance of the "cancel" button (you'll have to press "Back" to bin an email you're writing if you don't want to save it); and a "warning" if there are any any unsent messages in your inbox (for whatever reason). But the change that will grab everyone's attention is the ads update.
Google analyses messages to build up user profiles, which contributes to the cost of running Gmail, but the adverts displayed to the user are what actually pay the bills. As mobile users don't see those, they're currently "freeloading" on the Chocolate Factory's largesse.
Slotting adverts into mobile apps is tough, as Facebook's various attempts attest. If Google can make mobile adds profitable without being so intrusive as to drive users to alternative email clients, then it could provide a template for others to follow. If anyone can, Google can – but the open nature of Android will force it to proceed with caution.
Google will also want to turn off the ads for those who've stumped up the cash for Business Gmail accounts, just as it does for the website.
Gmail 4.6 isn't just about adverts, it also tweaks the UI and changes some buttons, and is already rolling out on a device-by-device basis, so Google will certainly wait until the vast majority of users have updated the app before it starts testing how far they can be pushed before they consider jumping.