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Tech Matters: Ads are increasing in Outlook and they’re hard to spot

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Aug 31, 2022

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Leslie Meredith

If you use the free version of the Outlook app on your phone, you may have noticed more ads. Then again, you may not have noticed because Microsoft designs them to look like emails. Ads also appear in the web or desktop version of Outlook. The change has been rolling out over the past several months and it’s not hard to understand.

I can’t think of a free online service that doesn’t include ads, including Gmail, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Pinterest and Apple News. In fact, in 2020 the internet hit a new milestone, according to AdAge that reported the internet accounted for more than half of all advertising spending in both the U.S. and worldwide. Every ad buy puts money in the platform owners’ coffers, and that’s understandable. A business can’t survive without revenue and if you’re not paying to use the service, revenue must come from ads.

But the issue here is that the Outlook ads are difficult to spot. With the exception of a small “Ad” tag, they look like all the other ads in your inbox. (You might consider enlarging the type by holding down the Control key for PCs or Command key for Macs and pressing the plus sign. To return to a smaller size, press the minus sign with CTRL or Command.) They have a contact bubble on the left just like an ordinary email. When you click an ad masquerading as an email, the in-app browser opens to display the ad content. That’s when you know you clicked on an ad, not an email. These ads do not get sent to your spam folder and there’s no way to stop them from coming back after you swipe to delete them. And despite numerous complaints in the App Store and on the Microsoft Community forum from frustrated users, it looks like the ads are here to stay.

So what can you do about it? To move them out of your primary inbox, you will want to set up a tabbed inbox option in the Outlook app rather than using the single inbox. With the split option, you will have two tabs: one called “focused” that holds important mail and “other” for all of the rest of your email. Microsoft will put the ad emails into the “other” tab.

To set up a tabbed inbox in Outlook the app, tap on your profile picture in the top left corner. Tap the gear icon to open settings, scroll down to “Focused Inbox” and then tap to toggle it on. This will add the Focused Inbox tab to the app’s home screen.

According to Microsoft, the only way to completely get rid of these pesky ads is to pay for a Microsoft 365 subscription, which will remove the ads from the Outlook app on iOS and Android as well as those on the web version. That subscription will cost you $69.99 each year. It does include access to Microsoft Office apps (Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook and Skype) on up to five devices, a number of premium features for Outlook and 1 terabyte of cloud storage. If you want to share the app among family members, you can pay another $30 for up to six users.

To add a layer of protection to Outlook, you might like DuckDuckGo’s new email protection service. DuckDuckGo is a search engine designed for privacy. Its new service comes as an extension for Edge, Firefox and Chrome browsers and can be accessed through the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser for iOS and Android.

Email Protection Service is a forwarding service that assigns you a free “@duck.com” email address and intercepts email trackers before they hit your personal inbox. This includes link tracking protection, which removes trackers embedded in many of the links and images added to emails. It also includes an encryption feature that converts links from an unsecure http connection to a secure https one. At this time, DuckDuckGo supports around 28 million websites with this feature. While this extension won’t remove ad emails from your inbox, it will make it much more difficult for companies to track any activity that originates from your interaction with the ads.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness, and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.


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