Following our previous story about behavioural targeting, Google announced this week that it is to launch ‘interest-based’ advertising.
They know that advertisers are keen to invest in advertising that reaches people based on their online surfing habits, and have moved to allow them to target specific ‘interest’ groups on both YouTube and the Google content network
At the moment the new advertising model is in Beta, which gives a few advertisers the opportunity trial and give feedback to the product specialists at Google. Of course knowing that amongst consumers this targeting model may be akin to online snooping on their bahaviour, Google have tried to reassure users that they will not use information stored within Google Accounts.
And in a major step forward, Google are giving us all the ability to access and edit the interest category that they have compiled for us, or to opt out entirely.
What this means is that you as a user can log into the ad preferences section in your Google account. You might have recently watched some soccer clips on YouTube, and Google might have therefore placed you in the interest category ‘football’ .You have the ability to confirm or reject Google’s categorisation of your online behaviour. If you accept it you will be more likely to receive advertising from companies selling football related products.
This comes at a time where Tim Berners-Lee – the person widely credited with the foundation of the Internet in 1989 – has said that the maintenance of online privacy is vital for the development of the web. He is calling for restrictions on the collection and use of ‘private’ information. He considers the Google’s ‘interest based’ advertising model, and behavioural targeting in general, is just the sort of private information gathering we need to avoid.
The other side of the equation is this: we all expect information on websites to be free of charge. We read our newspapers’ website, get free newsletters, catch up socially, all without any cost to ourselves. But all the services do cost at some point, so if we aren’t prepared to pay a subscription then we need to make it possible for the providers of these free services to raise money in other ways – by selling advertising. And the better targeting they can give to advertisers, the more money they can make from advertising. And the more money they make, the better their service becomes. And so on.
Once again we’re back to the same old question. Is it worth giving up some ‘private’ information in order to get a better version of the Internet, and allow online publishers to make a return too? I firmly think so, and as a website creator you’re probably on my side, but the reality is that everyone needs to be educated to be able to make an informed choice. Whilst ignorance of online behavioural targeting exists, consumers’ decisions will be driven by fear rather that what is actually best for the long term development of the web.
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