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Is Google Getting Aggressive?

While reading up on my tech news tonight, I ran across a story at the Financial Times about the iPhone 4's reception problems and how they might lead to a class action lawsuit. Another day, another class action lawsuit. No big deal. As I scrolled down through the story I caught sight of a rather large ad for Storage Containers:

I wasn't sure why the Financial Times was advertising Storage Containers, but nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary.

And then it hit me. About two weeks ago I had been doing some research via Google for a domain name that was dropping: ShippingContainers.us

I had done a few searches for products and such in that space to see if it was worth a backorder (I ended up just hand registering it) and as any good researcher does, I looked at related keywords and one of those was... you guessed it - Storage Containers.

So apparently, Google, in its infinite wisdom decided to start using it's cookies to pull out my search history and to start showing me ads based on my previous searches rather than content on the page. No problem, right? Except it took a good two weeks before it pulled that particular trick out of the bag from when I had searched on that term and while I have the typical banner blindness that most internet users have developed, I can't recall ever having such blatant use of cookies to feed ads regardless of the page's content.

In yet another coincidence, the Federal Government released new guidance that essentially removes the Federal Ban on Persistent Cookies as well as providing additional guidance for use of sites like Facebook and Twitter. You can see the full details at Federal Computer Weekly. Why are the two related? Because just as the federal government was getting comfortable with putting their foot back in the water of using helpful technologies like persistent cookies, Google may very well be screwing it up in order to make a few more pennies per page (times billions of pages!)

So has anyone else noticed an increase in Google's use of search history/cookie data lately or was this just a fluke? Until tonight, I had always just considered this as technology that was an internet marketer's wet dream, but it seems that it may turn into reality sooner than I thought.


  1. That's called "Retargetting" and is all the rage in the news now.

    There are rumblings that it might come to parking also.....so that's not all bad.

  2. This is nothing new and has been around for years.

    The federal government are a bunch of morons and don't understand the technical aspects of cookies and how behavioural targeting, which is what this is, really does not infringe on anyone's "privacy".

    Google has been doing this for some time, but the biggest players in this industry are AOL and Yahoo which are much bigger than Google at behavioral targeting.

    Just look up behavioral targeting...

    And also remember - Government = morons. Most government employees are the least knowledgeable and lowest paid. That's why they are government employees.

  3. I've been a contractor for 13 years working with everyone from the Federal government, to large banking institutions, to small mom and pop shops. The federal agencies I've worked with (many!) and the people involved in "federal work", which applies to contractors as well as employees are not morons (not "all", not "most", not even "half"). Are there bad apples? Yes, but there are bad apples in pretty much every private organization I've worked with too.

    In your cynical, holier than though attitude, people=morons and while I published your comment, I find it highly offensive.

    And yes, I know what behavioral targeting is, but companies that have used or have claimed to use such techniques have been clumsy at it at best and don't have nearly the impact as Google. My question was specifically if Google was getting more aggressive in their use of your search history.

    The issue of privacy is not as cut and dried as you make it either. Privacy, to me, is not something you put in freakin' "quotes". It's a fundamental right and while there may not be "harm" caused by this abuse of privacy, it's certainly a privacy issue. To me, and to many others, it's seen as a very slippery slope and one that could very easily backfire at Google (see investigations into their WiFi network scanning).

  4. You are right to postulate if Google has become aggressive. They seem to have fine-tuned the search personalization feature based on web history a few months back.

    But, Google does provide an option to turn off this feature. Please see Google support page at: http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=54048