Google Tinkers with Ad-Serving Tech

Google gives users a privacy opt-out trigger for its test ad-serving cookie.

In a continuation of what it calls its quest to make ad serving as pain-free as possible for its customers, Google said it is testing new privacy features designed to make using Google safer for third-party advertisers.

The experiment comes as the European Union is criticizing the search engine vendor and rivals Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL for not anonymizing search data fast enough.

This is a big concern for the EU, which believes that keeping user data for too long makes it susceptible to danger from perpetrators who use personal information to commit identity theft. Originally only targeting Google, the EU has opened up its scrutiny to include all search engines that retain user log data.

Google has since responded by instituting a shorter expiration date for the cookie set on users computers and anonymizing search log data after 18 months.

To further alleviate fears of pilfered data, Google said it has created an opt-out mechanism so people can opt out of the test ad-serving cookie, according to a blog post from Alex Kinnier, group product manager for Google, based in Mountain View, Calif.

"This is definitely innovative," said Forrester Research Analyst Charlene Li. "The idea is to give people who care how they want to be tracked the opportunity to opt out. But the people do have to take the step to opt out."

Google also said it would experiment with ways to boost transparency for consumers and to provide users with additional controls over the data gathered by ad servers.

For example, the company is looking at how to use "crumbled" cookies, so that the data associated with one unique identifying number or "cookie ID" will be broken up among multiple different cookies. This practice scrambles the ad history of users.

Google also said it wants to improve usability for users. The company is looking into how to include a way of providing better forms of notice within ads, which would help users understand what company is serving the ads they see, and what data is being collected.


Click here to read about Googles decision to allow somewhat faster expiration of user cookies.

Finally, Google is now offering users the ability to provide feedback to Google about the ads they like and dont like. The company says it makes a lot of its technology and business decisions based on its users and even readers of its news.

To that end, Google is offering an experimental feature on its Google News home page that lets so-called participants, or subjects of stories, comment. Google said it believes this will provide a fresh new perspective on news items.

Comments will be published without any editing. But to make sure there is separation between the objective journalists story and the reader, comments will be marked as "comments." That way readers will know theyre seeing an individuals perspective, rather than part of the journalists report.

"Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and well show them next to the articles about the story," wrote Dan Meredith and Andy Golding, software engineers for Google News, in a Google blog post.

"Were hoping that by adding this feature, we can help enhance the news experience for readers, testing the hypothesis that—whether theyre penguin researchers or presidential candidates—a personal view can sometimes add a whole new dimension to the story," Meredith and Golding said.

Google said this practice will begin in the United States but may be expanded to other languages and editions of its products.

Forresters Li said the Google News team, as arbiters of included comments, has to walk a fine line when deciding how to situate comments made by participants for particular stories. Li suggested readers might be concerned that comments from some participants could be given too much more weight than others.

"It can be a tricky implementation," Li said.

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