Google's New 'Interest Based' Ad Invades Your Personal Privacy. Here's How To Avoid That

18 March 2009

I love Google. I use it every day. And I'm sure you do too. But have you ever contemplated what would happen if your Google search result history becomes viewable by others?

For one, it wouldn't be the first time.

Earlier this month, Google had to contact a few users for accidentally sharing their private documents and spreadsheets with contacts who were never granted access.  Nice.

Sure, it was an accident, but if it would be naive to believe that this isolated incident will never happen again. Especially if you've been in touch with what Google's been up to.

For the past few years, Google has been associating your search history with services like gMail, Calendar and the like. Yep, it's called Search History, and unless you chose to opt out before, it's very possible that Google will be using this data in its upcoming "interest based" ads to bring you more 'relevant' ad results.

How would they do that? By analysing your search behaviour and browsing activites, and generating targeted ads based on that behavior. This is possible because everytime you're logged into your Google account, your personal search history by default gets recorded. The only way out would be to go into your Google account and deactivating 'search history'.

How long has this function been around? An article going back to August of 2007 written by Richard MacManus of RWW indicates that this personalised search project began sometime in 2006. That means unless you opted out of this 'service', the last 3 year of your search results are probably stored somewhere at a Mountain View Google server without you even knowing it.

Of course, not everybody is concerned about the future implications of this, but there are potential dangers, including an exposure of your data trail (discussed in our previous post on Personal Privacy). But for those that are, Google has at least made it easy to opt out.

Simply download the Google Advertising Cookie Opt-out Plugin for Firefox (there are instructions for other browsers too). The plugin came after a clamour over privacy from organizations interested in consumer protection and privacy, like The Network Advertising Initiative, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and our very own UK Internet Advertising Bureau.

So is this an evil move on Google's part? I wouldn't say so necessarily. Google is built on information analysis, and there is nothing wrong utilizing their resources to make a bit of dough. But as Om Malik of Gigaom wrote, "Like a boyfriend bringing you a dozen roses after cheating on you, it’s a lovely gesture — but don’t let those flowers blind you to his faults.... Google is offering consumers a choice about how it tracks your data, but behind those roses it still wants to be the repository of the world’s information and sell that out to the highest bidder."

What bugs me is the fact that Google has not been transparent about how they are utilizing our information, and the fact that search history is normally ENABLED for new users as a default without an explicit opt in or opt out choice.  Not the kind of 'privacy invasion' that most people were likely concerned about when they signed up for a Google account.

I suppose it's a necesary evil.

7 comments

  • blackgerbil1
    so all that gay luv n spechalist stuff i look at is logged by them...................doh :(
  • the w.
    Great, so they're going to serve me a bunch of ads for debt reduction services because I look at personal finance stuff all day. Thanks Google. Hey Google, I'm about to go take a shower, care to jump in with me and recommend soap, bathtub cleaner and towels?
  • The B.
    If you really want to moan about privacy then take a gander at what BT have done with Phorm, they trialled it on people without their permission, the EU are going nuts, of course UKGov has done sod all and the EU keep demanding answers and getting shrugs, par for the course from Broon's 'tards.
  • yahoo u.
    Just use yahoo! never really use google ever myself.
  • SimbaK2K
    Google can peak at my bits all they like.
  • cheapskate
    I always log out of gmail after checking my mail anyway as I don't want them tracking my web usage.
  • Lefty
    If computers had been about when George Orwell wrote animal farm, he'd have put them in the barn with the animals, (not the pigs though)

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