Privacy and Google’s Behavioral Advertising

Look for the political uproar over targeted Web advertising to begin again now that Google is upping the stakes with its own, more sophisticated approach that directs ads to users based on the Web sites they visit.

Yahoo and AOL have been doing this for some time. Now that the 600-lb. gorilla of Google has taken it up, there’s bound to be more hysteria about how the company is invading consumer privacy, even as it seeks to match advertisers with prospective customers.

But, as the Wall Street Journal notes, unlike with other behavioral targeting programs, users will be able to view and change categories they’re placed into through a Web site for managing their preferences. In addition, while Web sites visits are tracked, search engine terms are not.

At Technology Liberation Front, Berin Szoka writes a lengthy description of how the system will work and how users will have much more control over their privacy. Google’s granular opt-out options seem to address what I would allow as the most reasonable consumer complaint—that tracking can’t be turned off without significantly disabling browser functionality.

Google’s solution also shows once again that private enterprise stays ahead of regulation and legislation. Much of the fear over target Web ads is irrational. That doesn’t make it any less real. At the same time, many consumers understand the value of targeted Web ads, and for Web-publishers, it helps refine business models that rely on ad-driven revenues. Giving consumers a choice, which Google has done, is the right way to go.