Oh,behave

If the idea of someone poring over your browsing habits to create an unerring,detailed profile of you creeps you out...

Written by The Indian Express | Published:March 14, 2009 10:19 pm

If the idea of someone poring over your browsing habits to create an unerring,detailed profile of you creeps you out,then you should pay attention to Google’s latest move into behaviourally targeted ads. With keywords and contextual ads,it is already routine to match advertising to search queries and the text of the page you were on. But behavioural targeting goes much deeper — information about how you use the Web is collected,stored and associated with a cookie on your browser,which can track you,wherever you go,whatever you do.

Google is only treading a path pioneered by others,but its awesome scale makes every action significant. With the self-professed aim of organising the world’s information,it has been putting medical records and scholarly texts,magazine archives and intimate streetviews online. But it is like a pleasant panopticon — it sees and knows everything,but somehow,most people don’t seem to mind.

Certainly,behaviourally targeted ads are the most perfect,evolved form of advertising so far and in concept,the least annoying,because they are customised to you — instead of catchall banners for L.K. Advani or shaadi.com,you will get individually relevant pitches and there is no “spill” for advertisers either. In response to earlier hissyfits by privacy activists,Google has promised that its information is utterly secure,and that search logs are anonymised after a certain period. Now,as it announces its plans to venture into behavioural targeting (what it calls interest-based advertising),Google has taken pains to address privacy concerns. It provides limited disclosure of outside ads,it lets users manage the categories that Google has assigned to them,and tinker with it for a more accurate picture,and also provides an opt-out option. But privacy watchdogs aren’t impressed — as Stacey Higginbotham of popular tech-blog GigaOm writes,“like a boyfriend bringing you a dozen roses after cheating on you,it’s a lovely gesture”.

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