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.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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