Google: Choose your own ad(venture)

March 12, 2009

googleYesterday, Google rolled out a controversial new form of Internet advertising known as behavioral targeting, which shows ads to users based on their previous Internet activity. With an advanced tracking system in place, Google is prepared to tag and group users amongst 20 categories and 600 subcategories. This program is currently limited to web pages that show AdSense ads, which in fact number into the hundreds of thousands of commercial sites.

Google plans to track your browsing habits by setting a persistent cookie on your system. The cookie will collect information for Google to categorize you. As such, you, for example, may be pegged as a bride-to-be or boating enthusiast, and in turn, when you are visiting an Ad Sense site, the advertisements will be tailored so as to be related to your interest, regardless of the type of site you are visiting.

Google sees this as a powerful tool to leverage advertisers, who could more easily reach their target audiences, thus allowing publishers to charge more for advertising, and in turn, potentially earn more revenue from their sites.

Obviously, this new venture raises all kinds of concerns about privacy issues, and has already drawn ire from some privacy advocates and a few members of Congress.

However, Google prepared for the backlash by setting up a system that gives users the ability to choose to control their own settings, in addition to a way to permanently opt out of the interest-based advertising altogether.

The Google Ads Preferences Manager allows you to edit and create a profile of your own interests. Or, you can just let Google set it up based on your browsing habits. Additionally, for those that want no part in the interest-based advertising, there is a plugin for all major browsers that ensures Google will not track you after you decide to opt out.

Despite the level of user control Google is offering, privacy advocates still argue that Google is not doing enough to make users aware of the new tracking system. It remains to be seen whether Web site publishers will opt out of the program to allay the fears of privacy advocates, although with the current state of the economy, the revenue potential from targeted advertising could be enormous.

Now that Google’s program is under way, users have the ability to target themselves and Google has the potential to collect a virtual treasure trove of information on users, many of whom may not have any idea that they are being tracked. The vast amount of data Google will collect will undoubtedly have many marketing departments salivating.  As we enter a new era it truly could be the beginning of a new “Choose Your Own Adventure” on the Internet.


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