Google begins tracking users online to target ads

March 11, 2009

Google begins tracking users online to target ads Early this morning Google announced that it would start using behavioral targeting to serve more relevant ads along with a limited test group of advertisers. Behavioral targeting is a contentious topic as it uses tracking cookies to gather usage information on every site a user surfs.

While Google isn’t the first company to implement behavioral targeting, its usage of the technology is sure to raise some eyebrows among privacy advocates. Such a large portion of Internet surfers use at least one of Google’s products that the company could amass a gargantuan amount of data on users’ habits.

The way behavioral targeting works is by placing a cookie on your computer to track your Internet usage. When you go back to a Google site, the cookie shares information on all the sites that you have surfed and Google uses that information to target ads.

Historically Google has used contextual advertising to deliver ads that are relevant to the site and information that you’re looking at right that moment. Behavioral ads could get a lot creepier than contextual ones.

Imagine you’re thinking about buying a bike and have checked out a few models online. Then you go to check out the latest posts on your favorite news site, but the ads are all from bike companies.

Granted the ads would be well targeted to you, but completely out of context. This is basically like an advertising company following you around at the mall, then putting up a billboard for the stores you visited right outside your house.

Privacy advocates have protested the use of behavioral targeting and the issue has even been brought before Congress. However there is nothing protecting users from being followed around online.

Google launched a tool that allows you to opt out, but in order for them to remember your settings, you have to install a browser plugin. Further, to protect your from other companies that could be tracking your usage, you would have to opt out with each individual company.

The only way to control who tracks your Web usage is to use a cookie manager plugin for your browser or surf in private mode. Do you worry about companies tracking your online habits and is there anything you do to stop it?

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2 Responses to “Google begins tracking users online to target ads”

  1. Bruce Trainor:

    Today I switched all 3 computers to use ASK as the default search engine. It works well.

  2. Kamran @ PPC Bully Review:

    I have started noticing that the search results are also manipulated to match my preference. In addition, the Google suggestor also suggests those words that I have shown some interest before. It has both good and bad sides, it can be annoying but at times it gives a very good user experience.

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