Over 40 per cent of British people admit that they worry about free email providers scanning their personal emails for advertising purposes, according to research made public by GMX today.

The free email service, that serves more than 11 million users, found that a further 40 per cent of the users who took part in the survey didn't even know that it was common practice for some of the larger providers to habitually scan personal emails for keywords useful in advertising.

33 per cent of respondents believed that users should be able to opt out such scanning, while 18 per cent said they weren't bothered and a further 2 per cent though it was actually in our best interests.

Eva Heil, Managing Director of GMX, said, "It is understandable that many Britons are wary about their private emails being scanned for advertising reasons. It is certainly important that every user is at least informed if this is done by their email service."

'Users have a choice'

Heil, who of course added that GMX does not scan email for advertising purposes, but only for spam and viruses, also said:

"Most users only realise that their personal emails are being used in this way after noticing strangely optimised ads around their Inbox. British consumers should bear in mind that they have a choice of free email services that don't do this. If they are uncomfortable with the practice, they should vote with their feet."

At the same time as providing a nice little plug for GMX, Heil does remind us of the subtle ways larger companies, including Google, will covertly provide bespoke advertising in and around your email.

In fact, today's news follows AT&T's scathing attack on Google a couple of weeks ago, when it accused the search engine giant of raising "even greater privacy concerns" than its own announced plans for monitoring subscribers' surfing habits.

In a statement to TechRadar today, a Google spokesman said: "Like all email services, Gmail uses software to scan emails for viruses, and to filter out spam. Gmail also does an automatic software scan for keywords in emails to serve more relevant ads.

"No human being ever reads the emails sent or received in the Gmail service. Google believes that our users prefer to see relevant ads than to see random ads."