30.3.09

Google Ads: From context to behaviour, through privacy

I have read through Larry Dignan's blog at ZDNet that Google is claiming they will be making online advertising more behavioral. This means that Google will be taking as much as navigation info they can to make their ads more relevant. Is this bad or good?

Well, as many other things about technology (and life), there is no black or white (IMHO). The main pro is that they can transform boring ads (ads that fit the context of the page they are in, or in other words, ads that fit your short time interests) into useful ads (ads that take into account your long term interests, less intrusive, more appealing). But at what cost?

The cost in user modeling, ad targeting, etc. is always the same: user privacy. Google has follow a re-worked, more clever and considerably more useful and respectful approach that old Internet portals had. Original portals tried to capture all user traffic by offering a lot of services and information inside the portal itself. Old Yahoo!, Infoseek, Altavista and other (some of them dead) followed that approach, and failed with the fresh air of Google's "I just want you to begin your Web experience here". Google has instead been offering more and more beta services to capture more and more of our net traffic, with two wins:

  • As services are betas, they do not have to give support. Use them at your own risk.
  • The more services you use (starting at Gmail and then more and more), the more they know about your interests.

The technology is the same that online marketing corporations have been using for years, that is, cookies in your browser, served by affiliated sites:

These ads will associate categories of interest - say sports, gardening, cars, pets - with your browser, based on the types of sites you visit and the pages you view.

Cookies are the most widespread privacy damaging technology (apart from rootkits, etc.).

OK, my point is not to say "Google is being evil again". At least, they tell you they will be automatically processing the information about you, obviously you can just forget that services, and you can also opt-out.

Just make your balance.