Google Does Behavioral Targeting. Why Is It Trying to Fool Users & PolicyMakers By Claiming it’s “Interest-Based” Advertising? [Annals of Commercial Surveillance]

Google has finally fully entered the behavioral targeting business, although they are trying to disguise it through an Orwellian change of language by calling it “interest-based” advertising. The world’s largest and most dominant online ad system is expanding its data collection and targeting activities whenever we search, view videos or read blogs.  This isn’t really about, as Google’s blog suggests, “more interesting” ads for consumers. It’s about a further expansion of Google’s already considerable data-mining and interactive marketing and data-tracking/targeting arsenal, which now also includes using neuroscience for its YouTube ads.  Google is further endorsing a global culture with data collection, profiling and targeting at its core.  No matter how Google attempts to frame it as “better for you ads,” digital advertising is designed to influence our behaviors in non-transparent ways.

This announcement, which was done so Google can better incorporate all the behavioral targeting technologies it acquired when it bought online ad targeting giant DoubleClick, is also designed to help head-off the enactment of privacy laws in the US and EU (Google isn’t alone here.  Microsoft, Yahoo and others are in a global race in attempt to preserve the data collection status quo under the cover of industry self-regulation).  Giving consumers access to their (incomplete and likely to constantly be revised with even more targeting categories) profile has to be viewed with such a perspective–it serves as a smokescreen so Google can broaden its data collection and targeting (and become even more dominant in the global online ad business).  Instead of having the default be no data collection without prior expressed informed consent, Google has created the system as an flawed opt-out.  Missing from what users should know and control in their profile are the applications online marketers use to develop the ad so it can more effectively target (and collect data), including: neuromarketing, viral videos, rich immersive media, social networks, online product placement, etc.

Yesterday, Google should have called on Congress, the EU and other governments to enact meaningful consumer privacy safeguards.  While it is entirely to be expected that as the world’s largest online ad company Google would fully embrace behavioral targeting,  it’s also unfortunate.  Eventually–and we hope soon–responsible shareholders, such as socially conscious investment funds, and global regulators will hold Google–and other online marketers–more accountable to the public.

But stay tuned for the next entry, on what Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have done to evade privacy safeguards for behavioural targeting in the UK!

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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