2/13/2012 5:08 PM ET|
Who does Google think you are?
According to Google, the author of this article isn't Karen Weise, a 30-year-old woman and Bloomberg Businessweek reporter. Instead it sees a 55- to 64-year-old man interested in credit cards, finance, Los Angeles, politics and "table games," whatever those are. That's the information provided by a Google tool that's been available since 2009 but which few people know about. It lets users see what the search giant has inferred about them based on the websites they visit. (The URL is cumbersome, but try searching "ad preferences manager." It should be the first link.)
The results can be spot on -- or wildly off the mark. They're based on a "cookie," a file placed by Google (and many other companies) on each computer browser to track how its users surf the Web. Google actually knows far more than browsing histories, though. It knows what people write in Gmail messages, what YouTube videos they prefer and where they go with an Android phone. Historically, Google's privacy policies forced it to cordon off some of its most important data sources from each other, so the profile of a given YouTube user was totally separate from her Gmail profile. It was a schizophrenic view of the world.
"The policy is changing in recognition that Google itself has grown up," says Danny Sullivan, the editor-in-chief of the industry blog Search Engine Land.
Not everyone welcomes the change. The tech site Gizmodo published a post titled "Google's Broken Promise: The End of 'Don't Be Evil'" and argued that Google had pulled the rug out from under users who had agreed to the original privacy terms. Users can opt for Google not to track certain types of data, like search histories and instant messages. But the only way to prevent Google from sharing the info it does collect across sites is by setting up different accounts to use with each service.
At the heart of the unease is that while aggregating data might help personalize the Web, it'll help advertisers, too. "With all due respect for their desire to give better search results, clearly this helps them monetize and create more advertising opportunities," says David Sable, the global CEO of the ad agency Young & Rubicam. He says the Google ads he sees now are sometimes relevant but often way off base. Companies such as Google still have trouble discerning motivation, or why people click or talk about certain things, he notes.
That means Google tends to focus on what consumers have done in the past -- like their most recent search -- rather than trying to understand what they might do next. If someone searches for high school textbooks, now Google would probably show an ad for more textbooks. If it knew the searcher was a middle-aged parent, though, it'd be smarter to advertise resources for financing college.
"Google is trying to figure this out, and when they do get it right, it will be game-changing," says Heidi Messer, co-founder of Collective[i], a company that specializes in analyzing marketing data. So many human interactions that used to be invisible to businesses are now tracked online, she says, adding that Google "literally has all of the data that anyone could want." The challenge is to make sense of it.
Google's ad and search results won't change overnight; the new policy just sets out what Google may do with your data, not necessarily what it's planning to do. In January, Google began integrating posts, photos and profile pages from its social network, Google+, into search results -- a preview of how Google services may grow increasingly personalized.
"All of these services start to hinge on your identity more and more," says Eli Pariser, the author of "The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You." He says Web services should give people clearer ways to control their data and better indications for how their personal information is being used. Without that, he says, "you don't know what's been edited out, so you don't know what you're missing."
More from Bloomberg Businessweek:
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
This is why I'm still rocking a Blackberry. Everything you do now is saved, sorted, and tracked. Now the government wants drone flights within the US??? I don't want any company tracking my surfing, or my information. It's bad enough just going to Rite Aid or CVS with all their Wellness cards and 2 prices on the shelves. It's time Big Brother and his buddy Big Corperate back off, but I'm sure the sheep of this country will continue using their droids and surfing regardless of all the civil liberties they are losing.
Think it's about time that we start sticking together. If they want a strike, we can give it to them. The Power of the People United has shown them that we are a force to be reckoned with....Use it to fight this kind of crap and manipulation. We made them what the are and we can unmake them as quickly as all that! If they continue to invade our privacy...We can simply stop using them. Been thinking about that lately anyways. The computer is only a tool and should not be used against us.
This is one reason that I don't have a Facebook or Twitter account........well, and also I'm a bit anit-social. However, data mining is nothing new. Don't expect your elected officials to step in and pass legislation to curb the abuse. They benefit from this shared information as much as the corporations........if you subscribe to Field and Stream you will receive robocalls from the right......if you subscribe to Mother Jones you will receive robocalls from the left. It's not going to get better any time soon.
btw, happy valentine's day all!
If you want privacy, you must go offline. The younger generation will not do this because staying "connected" is more important to them than privacy. Not to mention, our kids are growing up in a world where the meaning of privacy is being redefined.
I suppose what people could do is surf for all different kinds of weird and strange stuff, but then we'd be flooded with junk on websites and in our in-boxes. Maybe it'd drive the ad companies crazy enough to stop? I guess that wouldn't make a dent either unless everyone stopped shopping online, but I love to because it's so convenient when you can't drive.
At least I do have one small revenge when it's time to vote and pollsters call and ask who I'm going to vote for. I tell them it's none of their business because that is supposed to be private. People always forget history and it wasn't so long ago that unions would force the members to vote for whoever the union leaders wanted to win at that time. And by forcing, I mean some people would be beaten.
Welcome to the day and age where control is taken from the person and placed in the hands of the marketer! This is marketing amped up to 11. Once upon a time you had to sit through a blerb about how your favorite radio program was sponsored by some now-long-gone product. Then it was your TV program, then your program was interrupted six times each hour to push many different products on you. Then marketers got savvy. Instead of merely demonstrating the product, they began to integrate commercials into lifestyle, and the less-sophisticated among us began to be truly swayed by marketing. Then they got even savvier and used peer pressure against us, then came the internet - an endless trail of information about you. As we converted to fully-digital lives, even the places we go and the images we generate have been tracked in an effort for the marketers to mirror our lives with seductive advertising.
Back in 2000, I worked for what has become one of the world's largest telecom companies. They were proud to predict that 3G cellular would usher in an era where a person could be travelling down the street and as they came in proximity of a certain business, they would receive a text on the phone that was an ad for that company. Imagine if only 30% of all businesses did that - think of all the text spam coming in as you move around your community. That is pretty much what Google is looking to entrench in our lives. No matter where you go or what screen you look at, someone will be there feeding ads to you that are customized to you in an attempt to wrestle some of your money away from you.
This reminds me of the blaring and on-your-face advertising shown in the scenes of futuristic LA as displayed in the sci-fi Blade Runner. As we become desensitized to a form of advertising, marketers create new ways to ratchet it up to keep us from tuning it out. Soon we just MAY see advertising that follows us around and gets in our faces to attempt to sell us something. This Google enterprise is just another step in that direction.
Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.