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August 10, 2010

Google's Plans to Improve Ad Targeting

The Wall Street Journal got hold of a confidential Google document from 2008 about interest-based advertising, a feature that was released last year. In addition of providing ads that match the content of a page, Google wants to improve ad quality by creating user profiles based on the sites you've visited.
Selling ads is Google's big money-maker, but the online-ad business is broadening away from Google's sweet spot, selling ads tied to the search-engine terms people use. Instead, advertisers want to target people based on more specific personal information such as hobbies, income, illnesses or circles of friends. (...) Few online companies have the potential to know as much about its users as Google. (...) Significantly, however, Google doesn't mix the separate pots of personal data. For instance, it doesn't use data gleaned from a person's Gmail account to target ads to that person elsewhere online.

Google's internal document suggests that this might change. Google could use data from properties like Gmail, Orkut and even search queries to improve ad targeting. Here's an extract from the document:
Over time, as the value of audience targeting is proven and the market reaction to these practices is realized, we will discuss the use of Search data. Google Search is the BEST source of user interests found on the Internet and would represent an immediate market differentiator with which no other player could compete. Search could be used to populate user interests. It can also be used to create new surround-search targeting options in which relevant display ads (or text ads) could be delivered on [Google Content Network] to a user within 15-60 minutes of a given search, whereby the timeliness of the ad would presumably increase its relevancy to the user.

It's important to note that the author of the memo is Aitan Weinberg, a former DoubleClick executive who is now a senior Google product manager for interest-based advertising. WSJ says that Google's executives were against using cookies to track people online, but the DoubleClick acquisition changed their perspective.
For the first time, Google had the ability to deliver ads targeted to individual people's computers. But just because it had the ability, Google didn't start using it. There was still too much internal resistance. (...) Tensions erupted during a meeting with about a dozen executives at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters about 18 months ago when Messrs. Page and Brin shouted at each other over how aggressively Google should move into targeting, according to a person who had knowledge of the meeting. (...) Mr. Brin was more reluctant than Mr. Page, this person said. Eventually, he acquiesced and plans for Google to sell ads targeted to people's interests went ahead.

Despite the internal resistance, it's tempting to cross-correlate data about users. Showing contextual ads in Gmail seemed creepy at first, but the ads turned out to be quite useful.

{ via Google Blogoscoped }


  1. The WSJ article is an ill-worded mess harboring an agenda, there is so much speculation that one can't take it seriously, the real take away there is that Google has a conscience unlike other corporation.

  2. It is amazing that such resistance existed. Can you imagine another company hesitating to take advantage of the user data for targetted advertising.

    Compare this to a cut throat company like Apple. It's nice that they have a conscience but it makes you wonder if they can compete. A conscience is an inconvenient thing in business.

  3. Users has become sensitive to privacy and Google is learning that the rules has changed. If Google starts using these information about users without their consent (opt in) for ads it should expect a very loud public backlash. Google should give the people the choice and then explain the benefits of allowing the Google products using their informations. A clean screen explaining what is going to be used and how and what benefits it will give to the users. If Google treats its users as adults I expect that most users will be happy in letting Google use those information.

    The key points here are: the choice to use or not to use the information for improving search results should be made by users, the usage should be very transparent, and the benefits should be explained to users in a clear and understandable way to average users.