Is Google flirting with the e-word?

So here’s the scenario: You’re surfing the web, and you come across a webpage that includes an ad for Volvo. When you hit the page, it drops a “cookie” on your machine, and then for the next few weeks (or months) the traffic-tracking firm comScore Media Metrix follows you around the Internet to see whether you search for the word “Volvo,” whether you visit the Volvo website, how long you stay there, and so on. And who is helping comScore put this little package together? Why, your friend Google, according to the Washington Post.

Does that seem just a little bit evil? It does to me, although I can’t really say what I don’t like about it. I know that lots of sites use cookies, and I know that comScore tracks people all the time — and I know that Google keeps all kinds of information about my search history. Heck, I volunteered to let them do that, because I thought it would help their search technology get better.

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So why does the Volvo thing bother me? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s that comScore’s tracking software is pretty close to spyware, as this post describes, even though the company says that those who download it are fully informed.

I know that Google has to find ways of making its ads more relevant for advertisers. Not only is AdSense click fraud a potential cancer eating away at the heart of the massive Google profit machine, but the company obviously wants to expand into new markets, and so it has to find ways to convince advertisers that its advertising works. I just wish it didn’t have to look over my shoulder and watch what I’m doing — and then give it all to an advertiser — without telling me.

8 thoughts on “Is Google flirting with the e-word?

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  2. I can sort of understand the uneasy factor about this type of solution. I personally go back and forth. I guess, as long as it’s tied to my PC only, and used to serve me ads that I’m more likely to be interested in I don’t have an issue.

    If, however, I search “Volvo” one week and then the next get piled with physical junk mail at home from Volvo because Google has tied my PC w/my Google account (which has my address through my AdSense profile) Then yeah – over the line.

  3. Hi Mathew,

    Great post… the search engines want to solve the relevance problem. Ultimately there is really only one way to do that, know more about the person i.e. me. Their current approach is cookies which as you say looks over my shoulder and reports back to the mother ship. You then correctly state the fear, is that I have NO choice in the matter.

    So parsing that further the problem it then becomes, how do I not only make ads more relevant AND allow my customer base to opt-in or out as they desire?

    What if I allowed Google to know more about me every time I did a search and I also allowed Volvo (because I like Volvo’s) to know more about me. My name, address and phone number is all public information. I’m willing to share it with them as long as they don’t abuse my privacy. What I want in return is “relevant, pin-point targeting adverts” which tell me about Volvo’s. AND (this is critical) I want those ads to be localized to a region no more than 10 miles from where I live. Finally I want to be able to opt-in at my leisure.

    So lets list the problems that the search engines currently have…

    • They don’t know much about me (my interests)
    • They don’t know where I live
    • They have know idea how to connect local business advertisers to my interests and location
    • They don’t know how offer me all of the above in real time when I log on with my mobile device while traveling (say I’m in San Francisco and a dealer there is running a special on Volvo’s)

    Finally if they knew all of the above the ads would become so targeted and so relevant that I’m almost compelled to click on them – especially if there is some additional temptation i.e. discount/coupon. Also if they (Google and Volvo) knew where I was when I clicked on those ads it would reduce click fraud.

    I don’t mind ads, I don’t mind sharing my personal data, what I hate is ads that are not relevant and someone abusing my privacy. After all I share my credit card info every time I buy something, when someone abuses that I show my displeasure by not going there anymore. That’s why I never click on any ads…. It’s because they are never relevant to me or where I live.

    All the best,

    Peter

  4. Thanks for the comments, Ryan and Peter. I think you both touched on the hard part, which is using personal information to make ads more relevant but without crossing a line and abusing people’s privacy. That’s the Holy Grail.

  5. What would worry me more would be if, having looked at a Volvo web page and been “cookied”, and then Google figured out an algorithm to track every other vehicle manufacturer whose page I visited. Would be a gold mine of competitive information that any vendor would lust for. However, that would be a definite invasion of privacy.

    As an aside, having been a Volvo owner since 1972, I don’t think there is much Volvo could learn about me by tracking me on the Internet.

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