Google announced on March 11 that it was launching a beta version of what it terms "interest-based advertising," a type of behavioral targeting that delivers ads to users based on their previous searches and page views.
Based on previous site visits and page views, Google will link "categories of interest" such as cars or fishing to your browser, which will then display targeted ads. If you've spent the last two months frequently perusing sites having to do with virtualization upgrades, for example, then interest-based advertising would ensure that you saw ads for such upgrades even when on YouTube, or while visiting a car site.
The beta test will initially include a handful of advertisers before expanding to a larger number.
Yahoo has already embraced behavioral targeting as a potential revenue generator. On Feb. 24, the company announced that it was introducing a new product called Search Retargeting, designed to give "advertisers the ability to target display advertising based on user search activities."
While retaining user data may help refine searches, it has also made privacy a hot-button topic for Google and other search-engine providers.
In response to privacy advocates arguing that user data should be deleted from these providers' systems as fast as possible, Google announced in September 2008 that it was effectively halving its search data retention to nine months.
On Dec. 17, 2008, not to be outdone, Yahoo announced that it would anonymize log data within 90 days.
Google seems to have anticipated that its new interest-based advertising will lead to a similar eruption in privacy-advocate objections and is determined to head them off at the proverbial pass.
"This kind of tailored advertising does raise questions about user choice and privacy - questions the whole online ad industry has a responsibility to answer," said Susan Wojcicki, vice president of Product Management for Google. "Many companies already provide interest-based advertising and they address these issues in different ways. For our part, we're launching interest-based advertising with three important features that demonstrate our commitment to transparency and user choice."
Those "three important features" include:
- Labeling ads with information about how Google serves ads, and "the information we use to show you ads."
- A new tool called Ad Preferences Manager that lets users add or delete interest categories associated with their browser.
- The ability to delete the advertising cookie for the AdSense partner network.
Describing the intersection of advertising and privacy as a "challenging policy issue," Nicole Wong, deputy general counsel for Google, claimed in a blog posting this morning that the company's interest-based advertising is "a product that's not only consistent with industry groups' privacy principles, but also goes beyond their requirements."