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Who is browsing whom?

by Archives October 30, 2007

Guilelessly posing as an innocent search engine helping humans of every stripe and Net-ability to find what they want, the giant web-crawler tracks literally billions of search requests every day.
Consumers may think Google is working for them, but Google has a greater purpose: They are helping advertisers find what they’re looking for: you.
And they know where you’re browsing.
“We have developed the most advanced surveillance system known to man. Using the power of digital technology, [they] drive [the consumer] the way they want to, to do what they want you to do,” said Jeff Chester, author of Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy.
Google is very interested in the business of matching the right consumer with the right advertiser.
Every click of your browser, every site you visit, every section of the online newspaper you read is recorded as information about your potential buying habits, your interests and your activities. It’s filed away, eventually to be sold as information to advertising companies.
Likely nothing new to the majority of people growing up in the information age, but consumers of an older demographic would be horrified to learn that their buying habits are so intensely monitored. Even harmless-looking Yahoo, whose homepage is the most visited site in the world, uses and distributes your information.

Google goes Doubleclick

DoubleClick, the online advertising company, was acquired by Google in April this year for $3.1 billion in cash, nearly double the price it paid for YouTube last year. This acquisition was only a portion of the $16 billion total Google spent last year buying up advertising companies.
Founded in 1996, DoubleClick provides display ads on Web sites like MySpace, The Wall Street Journal and America Online and helps advertisers and ad agencies maximize and measure the effectiveness of their online ads.
What does this mean for web-based consumers? As one analyst put it, Google currently has “deep information” about an individual’s actions, revealed to them by their search terms on the web. But DoubleClick has “broad information” about which sites a consumer visits while surfing… information that Google previously had very little access to, according to Peter Swire, in “Protecting Consumers: Privacy Matters in Antitrust Analysis.”
Now, with the combined forces of deep and broad search information, the end product may be that your searches are narrowed more and more to the point that it only turns up what the search engine – and its cookies – deem are in your field of interest.

Not scared yet?
Chester, interviewed recently on a CBC documentary about the new advertising age, tackled the myth that the era of powerful TV advertising is coming to an end as it is replaced by the sweet efficiency of internet banner ads. “What’s dead is the notion that you are going to spend 15 minutes of the hour watching TV that isn’t relevant to you,” said Chester.
What is about to transform the way we watch TV is something called addressable advertising. He points to the advertising company Visible World that has the technology to reconfigure their ads just seconds before it goes to air. The creative elements, the voiceover, images and text, are all digitized and can be instantly shuffled to produce an ad that is relevant to the single consumer it’s aiming for.
You like golfing, swimming and horseback riding, use an American Express card and shopping at Pier One? Visible World has all that information in their files. The next commercial you see for a Florida vacation will have those offers and images that this company deemed appealing to you. You will see pictures of idyllic golf courses, horses galloping thorough the water, with a bonus gift card for your favourite store – all for a special price if you use your AMEX card to buy.
And your neighbour next door? If he likes Italian dining, spa dates, mountain climbing, uses a VISA card and shops at Mountain Equipment Co-op, he and his family will see an entirely different version of that Florida vacation commercial. At the exact same time.

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