Making Ads More Interesting…for Users or for Google?

Google annouced today that:

We think we can make online advertising even more relevant and useful by using additional information about the websites people visit. Today we are launching “interest-based” advertising as a beta test on our partner sites and on YouTube. These ads will associate categories of interest — say sports, gardening, cars, pets — with your browser, based on the types of sites you visit and the pages you view. We may then use those interest categories to show you more relevant text and display ads.

They do realize that this announcement raises lots of hackles in a world that is increasingly distrustful of Google’s accumulation of data and its control over so much of our online experience. They offer the following as grounds for trusting them:

  • Transparency – We already clearly label most of the ads provided by Google on the AdSense partner network and on YouTube. You can click on the labels to get more information about how we serve ads, and the information we use to show you ads. This year we will expand the range of ad formats and publishers that display labels that provide a way to learn more and make choices about Google’s ad serving.
  • Choice – We have built a tool called Ads Preferences Manager, which lets you view, delete, or add interest categories associated with your browser so that you can receive ads that are more interesting to you.
  • Control – You can always opt out of the advertising cookie for the AdSense partner network here. To make sure that your opt-out decision is respected (and isn’t deleted if you clear the cookies from your browser), we have designed a plug-in for your browser that maintains your opt-out choice.

Despite the predictable reactions from privacy groups, I don’t know that I find behaviorally targeted ads any worse than ads in general. Indeed, Google is probably right that that users will find the ads more relevant–indeed, they have every incentive to increase click-through rates. Privacy groups are right to call out Google’s hypocrisy in changing its tune on behavioral advertising, but so what? If Google’s going to live and die by the ad-supported model and if the overwhelming majority of the online population is on board with it, then, then it’s to be expected that Google will optimize for ad revenue.

Of course, my idea of choice and control is to use an ad blocker (specifically, the CustomizeGoogle Firefox extension), and I think Google takes a very narrow view of transparency. Still, I’m amused that Google is drawing so much heat for what seems to me a minor, incremental change.

Well, a minor change for users. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Google’s stock is up 3% today. $3B in market cap is a signifiant increment, even for Google.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

One reply on “Making Ads More Interesting…for Users or for Google?”

To be fair to Google, I don’t think they ever said they were specifically against the behavioral model. I think they said that they had looked at it, and it didn’t work. And they’re only against things that didn’t work.

So maybe, just maybe, they did more research in these intervening years and came up with that one, sweet algorithm that really makes behavioral data work, when it hadn’t before. Once they discovered that algorithm, then it was full steam ahead, without hypocrisy.


Frankly, I don’t believe that is what they did. I think they’re desperate to keep their revenue numbers up quarter-by-quarter (which also contradicts things they’ve said in the past as well). So that’s why they’ve started to show non-relevant banner ads on YouTube, and why they’re also trying to increase their revenue on other ads, by any means possible.

But I do not know this for sure; I have no inside
knowledge. So it depends on how much slack you/I/we are willing to cut Google. Maybe they did indeed come up with that magic algorithm.


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