Google to Facebook: we sell user data, not you!

Brian Turner

April 27, 2010

Earlier this week, The Register reported on how Google employees were suddenly shutting down their Facebook profiles.

Speculation was rife that this was due to Facebook’s promised threat of supplying user data to third-party advertisers being an obvious privacy threat.

Well, today Google have announced the next stage of the DoubleClick integration – yes, you guessed it, selling ads to users of the internet based on personal profiling carried out by Google on them.

No pot calling the kettle black, then.

According to the Google Doubleclick blog:

Advertisers can now build media plans to reach audiences with interests relevant to their campaigns using DoubleClick Ad Planner. Audience interests represent the aggregate interests of visitors to any given website.

By combining an understanding of a website’s demographic appeal with the range of interests of the audience the site attracts, advertisers can get a more complete picture of who they will reach by advertising on the site.

So, finally, at last, all that user information that Google has been data mining on your use of Google Search, Gmail, Google Buzz, and tracking cookies it already installs on your computer – can all now be sold to advertisers to target you better with ads.

What joy, I hear you cry! After all, aren’t we all devastated when we use Google for information, only to get not quite the correct type of ads displayed to us?

Certainly Adsense publishers aren’t happy – over this year there have been a lot of reports from disgruntled publishers that instead of Google Adsense displaying useful, relevant, ads for their websites – instead, they are getting irrelevant and off-topic ads displayed according to user interests.

In other words, if someone visits a property website, then visits a science fiction website, they will be presented with property ads showing them exactly what they were just looking at, but moved away from!

Google’s policies on user privacy to date have been dire, but the company has been forced to repeatedly revise terms – even still, Google has made it plain it intends to keep as much data as possible, even if the company is forced to anonymise it eventually.

Just how personal information from users on just search was revealed a few years ago, when AOL made the colossal mistake of publishing search data, which allowed individuals to be tracked and identified by the media.

Since then, Google has made a point of creating a free email program to automatically scan your emails, and now has a social portal in which it can harvest more data on you.

While people look to the visible signs of monitoring in every day life, such as CCTV cameras, and proclaim “big borhter is upon us!”, few take into consideration just how much effort companies such as Google make in collecting as much data on you as possible, storing it, sorting it – before providing it to third party advertisers.

Truly, it can be said, no one is tracked and observed offline anywhere near as much as they are on the internet.

Of course, here I am writing this piece on Techwatch – which uses Google Adsense – and fair claim to anyone who cries foul at being critical of Google for privacy issues, while still displaying their ads.

The problem is Google’s sheer dominance – it holds almost 90% of the user search market in the UK, and Google Adsense remains the only simple and effective advertising solution for publishers, in the absence of any serious competitors.

That does not mean to say that Google’s privacy policies should not be carefully read and criticised as appropriate.

But it does cast a shadow on the company when Google employees are ready to take a “moral stance” on other internet service providers supplying user data to advertisers – when Google remains the worst offender of them all.


Comments in chronological order (1 comment)

  1. Wayne says:

    Hi Brian,

    Saw your article and wanted to clarify a couple things.

    First, DoubleClick Ad Planner does not in any way allow ads to be targeted to individual users. It simply looks at an aggregated data sample to show what types of websites a particular site’s users are more likely to visit. For example, let’s look at TechWatch. Using aggregated data, Ad Planner can tell potential advertisers that readers of your site are, in aggregate, more likely to visit cable/satellite and video player sites.

    Second, DoubleClick Ad Planner does not use search, Gmail or Buzz data at all. In fact it uses no Google account data at all. Rather, it uses anonymized, aggregated Google Toolbar data from users who have opted in to enhanced features, publisher opt-in anonymous Google Analytics data (that TechWatch, for example, has chosen to provide to us), opt-in external consumer panel data, and other third-party market research. The data is aggregated over millions of users and powered by computer algorithms.

    Wayne Lin
    Product Manager, DoubleClick Ad Planner

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