Yesterday’s post in the Google AdSense global blog* confirms what we all thought it would happen: that Google will finally make a business decision to leverage their unrivaled wealth of information coming from their search capabilities and attempt to implement a form of BT (Behavioral Targeting) to unsuspecting users.
Claiming to “driving monetization with ads that reach the right audience“, here’s what the official announcement says:
“Over the next few months we’ll start offering interest-based advertising to a limited number of advertisers as part of a beta, and expand the offering later in 2009. Whether the advertiser’s goal is to drive brand awareness or increase responses to their ads, these capabilities can help expand the success of their campaigns and should increase your earnings as advertiser participation increases.”
All’s good and well, only, as with many other Google initiatives that fall into the gray area of privacy intrusion, this is an opt-out feature. That means that the aforementioned users will be subjected to behavioral targeting of the Google ads they may bump into any given site – and yes, I do realize the irony of having a certain ad slot right here – unless they proactively seek a way out of it.
Here’s how it works: “To develop interest categories, we’ll recognize the types of webpages users visit across the AdSense network. As an example, if they visit a number of sports pages, we’ll add them to the “sports enthusiast” interest category. You can visit the Help Center to learn more about how interest categories will be developed and your associated account settings. […] by visiting the new Ads Preferences Manager, users can see what interest categories we think they fall into, or add and remove categories themselves. The Ads Preferences Manager can be found by clicking on most “Ads by Google” links you see on Google ads throughout the web.”
Going back a little while, do you remember the roll-out of the “web search history” across Google accounts? Again, this was an opt-out feature – that has, privacy wise, the same approach as the current rolling of behavioral targeting. One would hope that, having already opted out of it (“No, I most certainly don’t want you to observe and store the URLs I visit!“), common sense would prevent future invasions from happening. Clearly not the case: behavioral targeting is active even if you surf while logged into a Google account with web history deactivated.
While it’s quite obvious what drove this initiative to life in the first place, I really dislike the approach: nobody should be subjected to tracking and behavioral targeting unless they have specifically agreed to it! While you, readers, may be knowledgeable enough to avoid this and stay updated on the online ad industry news and practices, the average internet user is not. Considering the extremely wide reach of Google’s content network, one’s chances to come across sites carrying Google ads – and be tracked and targeted – are very, very high.
Google calls this “privacy innovations“. I call it “deception“. What do you call it?