Google Creates New AdSense…Where Did “Do No Evil” Go?

March 16, 2009 · Posted in General

ETA: I discovered you can opt-out of interest-based advertising on Google AdSense. Read here for more info.

I don’t have any ads currently on my iGame Radio website, but I’ve dealt with Internet ads for a while, and intend to be displaying ads when I relaunch my new site design soon (don’t forget the Logo Contest!) And I have been working with Google AdSense for a long time, especially on MacRadio.

So, when I received an email the other day from Google AdSense informing me that Google would be launching soon a new AdSense technique, called interest-based advertising, I thought, hmm, I should check this out. Especially since it would require changes to my privacy policy. I was quite distraught by what I read.

Interest-based advertising uses cookies that Google AdSense will drop on your browser to keep track of what sites you go to. Then AdSense will develop a profile of you, which it will place into one of several pre-existing categories, such as “sport’s enthusiast”, or “travel enthusiast” (what, no “porn enthusiast”??). Then it will deliver targeted ads to whatever site you go to that serves Google AdSense ads…ads based on other sites you have gone to already.

Now, some might consider that this is a great idea. Google is targeting ads more specifically by what your interests are, and delivering those ads directly to you.

Let me point out to you the innumerable problems with this.

First, consider that you are probably going to end up seeing a set number of ads that are targeted to you, and after a while, you will get really tired of seeing them. I mean, doesn’t that already happen at many sites now? The ads are targeted based on the content of the site, which doesn’t change a huge amount beyond a certain extent, and eventually you’ve seen all of the ads in the rotation. If you are dropped into a category, you’ll experience the same thing…only, it could be worse, because even though a site could eventually evolve, your category won’t.

And let’s talk a little bit about that site content targeting, too. Google has not yet detailed, as far as I know, whether the interest-based advertising will be working in conjunction with, or replacing, site-targeting ads. The information so far seems to imply replacing, so that’s what I’ll go with at the moment. Which means that you could be a “sports enthusiast” because you spend about 75% of your time on sports-related sites, but then you go to a relationship site because you want to read some article to help with your relationship with your spouse…and see sports memorabilia ads all over it. Yeah, that makes me feel like the site is streamlined and tight. Or, consider that you are using a public computer, at a library, or worse. Go to a cooking site…and see porn ads.

But the real issue for me is privacy. The moment I read it I had visions of portfolios of my browsing habits kept in secret computer files. Think about it. Google will now be collecting a file of each and every one of us about every single website we’ve gone to…how long we were there, how often, what IP address we used, etc. And we can all believe that Google would never use it for anything other than the AdSense program even…until the government issues their illegal warrant demanding the information for “security purposes”. Telecom redux, anyone?

If you look at the Google AdSense blog announcing it, my fears are not singular. I would say 75% at least of the people who have posted in this blog have issues regarding Google’s decision, and many of them are privacy based. It’s a popular issue, because unlike most of Google’s other posts in this blog (which usually range around 10 to 30 comments) this post has blown to almost 100 comments.

I don’t foresee that Google is going to just drop this launch. I am expecting they are going to test it out in the limited beta that they mentioned, and hopefully will see that, no, really they need to make some changes. Changes which I hope will include an opt-in option (although an opt-out option will work…right now there isn’t any option to be removed from the program at all other than disabling cookies).

I hope that Google understands that “Do no evil” really does include “Don’t invade our privacy”.

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