Interesting Google Adsense Ads

google-adsense-logo-invertedIs Google Adsense planning to snoop on blog readers? It would seem so.

A recent email from the Adsense team and an announcement on the Inside Adsense blog says that the company is “introducing interest-based advertising – action required for your AdSense account”.

We’re writing to let you know about the upcoming launch of interest-based advertising, which will require you to review and make any necessary changes to your site’s privacy policies. You’ll also see some new options on your Account Settings page.

It’s that bit about privacy policies that is going to have the blogosphere bristling. Until now, ads are picked for display on a given site on the basis of the content of the site. According to the Adsense team, the advertising system will work differently, not simply picking up on page context, the new interest-based advertising “will allow advertisers to display ads based on a user’s previous interactions with them, such as visits to advertiser website and also to reach users based on their interests (e.g. “sports enthusiast”).”

Google explains what this means, quite openly:

“To develop interest categories, we will recognize the types of web pages that users visit throughout the Google content network. As an example, if they visit a number of sports pages, we will add them to the “sports enthusiast” interest category.”

Isn’t this exactly what privacy advocates have fought against with their internet service providers including ntl (now VirginMedia) and British Telecom in the UK and those ISPs using Phorm and similar services in the US and elsewhere?

It will inevitably improve the ads and perhaps the revenues a site receives, but you can bet there will be a privacy backlash soon. Of course, the ads will only affect visitors who use Google’s logged in services or have cookies enabled when they do so, which is probably most people. If you could avoid Google altogether and run NoScript in Firefox then you won’t get targeted advertising and you won’t see it displayed anyway.

Google points out that users must now change their privacy policy in line with this new interesting approach to Adsense. Unfortunately, there is no advice on what you need to say in that new privacy policy for your site. Publisher sites and laws vary from country to country, so it could be time to call in the legal team to check. But, I think the onus should be on Google to provide a template for the pertinent section to add for each jurisdiction. However, does anyone know which laws apply to a citizen of one country, operating an offshore business in another, and running servers in a third?

From a personal standpoint, Sciencetext does run Google Adsense, it almost covers hosting costs, and if the site ever took off it might even pay for a few beers at some point in the distant future.

Author: David Bradley

Freelance science journalist, author of Deceived Wisdom. Photographer and musician.