Google's Behavioral Ads Are Just The Start

from the privacy? dept

Google's latest privacy flap emerged this week when it announced its "interest-based" ads, which are behaviorally targeted banner ads based on a user's web-browsing activity. It's nothing particularly new or ground-breaking, and the company was kind enough to give people a way to opt out, but the way the company presented the new system to users was a little odd. It titled its blog post announcing the new system "Making ads more interesting," and it later said, "We believe there is real value to seeing ads about the things that interest you." But are better-targeted ads really something that delivers any benefit to users? The benefit to advertisers and marketers is obvious, but it's hard to see users really caring enough to forfeit some privacy just so they can help out advertisers.

But web browsing is just the tip of the iceberg: lots of marketers are looking at how to take information generated by mobile phones to hit users with targeted ads. They're not talking about the worn-out Starbucks example of hitting people's phones with a coupon when they walk past a store, but building profiles of people based on their travel patterns, favorite applications and web sites, and even gender, age and income information. Again, all of this info given up for the sake of seeing "better" or "more interesting" advertising. That really doesn't benefit the user, so why should they give up -- or be forced to give up -- all of this information?

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  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 13 Mar 2009 @ 3:37pm

    Huh?

    But are better-targeted ads really something that delivers any benefit to users?

    Carlo, meet Mike. Mike, this is Carlo. You two have a lot to talk about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rose M. Welch, 13 Mar 2009 @ 4:05pm

    Not really an opt-out...

    Carlo, you can't really 'opt-out' of their program. Google says that you can but then continues by saying:

    If you delete this opt-out cookie, you will have to opt out again. Alternatively, Google offers options for you to permanently save your opt-out settings in your browser. With this browser plugin you can permanently opt out of the DoubleClick cookie, which is an advertising cookie that Google uses.

    So I should download and install something from a company that wants to use my private information? Seriously? I don't think so...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crystalattice (profile), 13 Mar 2009 @ 7:11pm

      Re: Not really an opt-out...

      Plus, this so-called "opt-out" only applies to users of IE and Firefox. Safari, Opera, et al. need not apply.

      Why is that? If it's just a cookie, then why is it browser specific? This means that a large portion of Mac users or alternative browser users are SOL.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      nasch, 16 Mar 2009 @ 12:59pm

      Re: Not really an opt-out...

      With CookieSafe, you could block google cookies. There are probably some useful google cookies that would get caught up with that though, unless this one comes from a different domain.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 13 Mar 2009 @ 4:06pm

    There is a benefit

    The main benefit is you get to see things that aren't just noise.

    Assuming advertising will never go away (and it won't) having advertising that actually is meaningful to you is a benefit. It means that you see products and services you might actually need from companies that may actually do you a service.

    Yes, 90% of advertising (and everything else) is crud but this way you may actually not avoid advertising so much if you know it's more likely to be something you may actually need.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Matt, 13 Mar 2009 @ 4:18pm

      Re: There is a benefit

      uh what?

      This is a problem with advertising that people don't get. Just because you find something of relevance to someone's interest, maybe even what they want/need, doesn't mean they're going to click the adsense link for it.

      Even if ads were 90% relevant we're not going to click on them 90% of the time. We're going to click on them less than 1% of the time. That same amount applies to 10% relevant ads.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chris S, 13 Mar 2009 @ 4:24pm

    Hosts File

    Edit your hosts file to redirect doubleclick to 127.0.0.1. You'll never be bothered by their crap again. Any attempt by your machine to talk to them will resolve in a 404 error.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Margaret, 13 Mar 2009 @ 5:50pm

    There's a wizard that consolidates the process of opting out of all the ad networks. Definitely a second best solution the relies on trust, but with this certainly easy to get off of the radar at Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and the other big networks. There are better technical solutions, but the mass of users need something easy I think. http://www.privacychoice.net

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TehShrike (profile), 13 Mar 2009 @ 11:01pm

    There really is a benefit

    I am a consumer. I actually want to buy things.

    Someone who knows more things about me can show me things that I truly might be interested in buying. And I would like that.

    Do I want to give a stranger the information necessary to make such accurate recommendations? That's a different question entirely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Bryan Rosander, 14 Mar 2009 @ 8:17am

      Re: There really is a benefit

      There is definitely a benefit to this. I would much rather have ads about things I am interested in and might actually want to buy.

      Even more conveniently, these companies don't have to be selling anything. Lots of webcomics advertise themselves on other webcomic sites without ever turning it into a business model. They just want more people to read their comic and are willing to pay for it.

      The people this will benefit most are the independent artists and unique business models this site is always supporting.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2009 @ 2:31am

    so, people still allow random cookies.
    amazing

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      PRMan, 14 Mar 2009 @ 6:17am

      Re: cookies

      >so, people still allow random cookies.
      >amazing

      Considering I have been for about 15 years and never once suffered because of it, I guess my question would be, why not?

      I've never understood the whole cookie paranoia. It's a small text file that they put on your machine. Only they can access it.

      I block ad companies with NoScript anyway.

      I'm failing to see the problem here, especially since you are stating it as if it's obvious.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    alex, 14 Mar 2009 @ 3:45am

    i don't get it...

    Well:

    a) we LIKE free stuff on the web, and in this case FROM Google....

    b) we DO NOT want to pay for anything (cause we are used to getting it for free...)

    c) the company offers its product for FREE, but places ads on the sidelines, to cover its costs and make money...

    d)YOU kick and scream about the ads from day one, but thats ok, because u r just an ungratefull user...

    e) here comes the funnier part: you continue to kick and scream when the company tries to make these ads MORE RELEVANT to what might interest you as a consumer...

    i just don't get it... I CANNOT AVOID ADS.. CAUSE I DO NOT WANT TO PAY FOR SERVICES... AS SUCH, I W-A-N-T THE ADS SHOWN TO ME TO BE... R-E-L-E-V-A-N-T...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      R. Miles, 16 Mar 2009 @ 4:20am

      Re: i don't get it...

      the company offers its product for FREE, but places ads on the sidelines, to cover its costs and make money...
      This is where you're wrong, Alex.

      It isn't free. I has no cost to you. Someone pays for the applications and services provided. When you don't click an ad (relevant or not), someone else is paying your way.

      I used to believe in this model long ago. Get something for nothing while we ultimately pay through product purchase. "Spread the cost", so to speak.

      I no longer believe in this model because advertising is no longer used in this manner. Advertising has become an invasive business in itself, and news like this isn't good for any consumer, regardless if you pay or not.

      Google's influence in the web world is tremendous, and changes like this means Google has too much influence. When a browser is installed now, it's damn near impossible not to see Google pre-loaded.

      That's a problem with me, when product tie ins are perpetuating Google's changes, regardless if you like them or not.

      As a consumer, you should be very cautious of these types of "direct" ads, because instead of being a benefit to you, they'll eventually be a nuisance to you when they're in everything you do online.

      And in my book, this doesn't mean free.

      It means you have no choice, which destroys the very definition of free.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ari, 14 Mar 2009 @ 5:10am

    Blocking ads

    I agree with alex that ads play an important role in keeping the services free. But I still don't want the advertising networks to know all of my browsing habits. To me it would be similar to having someone follow you the whole time as you do your shopping and writing down what you look at and what you buy. In the Internet this kind of tracking is way too easy, especially if you are Google, which is big enough to be everywhere. And, by the way, this applies to Google Analytics as well.

    This is why I have been blocking Google (ads and analytics) for many years now. And as this kind of news come out, I'm even more sure it's the right thing to do. Fortunately their ads are pay-per-click so me blocking them doesn't hurt anybody.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Danny (profile), 14 Mar 2009 @ 12:08pm

    I could use some good ads

    "But are better-targeted ads really something that delivers any benefit to users?"

    Yes, if my social contract is that I have to tolerate ads in order to get a service for "free", then I would much rather they be ads of some interest and value to me. I might actually buy something now and then.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, 14 Mar 2009 @ 1:58pm

    Behavioral ads

    You say: "That really doesn't benefit the user, so why should they give up -- or be forced to give up -- all of this information?".
    Pegging again. This article does bring up some things to think about, but consider: I often have to work my way through a dense screen of ads about stuff I have no interest in. Would I rather see fewer ads targeted at stuff I am interested in? OF COURSE! So it MAY benefit the user!
    Is it a mixed bag; something we should approach with caution; and should there be opt-outs? OF COURSE! The overall theme of the article is great; it is just overly extreme.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    R. Miles, 16 Mar 2009 @ 4:07am

    Bad browser = golden opportunity

    Internet Explorer's piss poor ability to allow users to control what they want to see on a page is definitely an advantage Google's taking.

    I feel sorry for anyone using IE who has to endure this crap.

    If you're an IE user, you may want to check out (http://www.firefox.com) a better browser, and peruse the add-ons for the following: adblock and flashblock (there's also noscript, but requires advanced knowledge on how scripts work).

    Together, you'll never see another ad you don't want to.

    Sorry Google, but I don't like the path the company's been taking recently.

    Personal note: I don't, nor will, visit YouTube. I would appreciate an option which allows me to remove YouTube links from the results list. Thank you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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