Thursday, June 12, 2008

Google Collecting Data on 3rd Party Sites to Target Ads on

Is Google collecting data on the 3rd party sites to target Ads on A user called "Discovery" on Search Engine Watch Forums reported that Google showed targeted ads (sponsored search results) on based on this user's behavior on 3rd party sites (Fry's, Circuit City, and Best Buy).

Here is what “Discovery” wrote:

“As far as I knew Google's PPC was strictly KW search based, then an odd thing happened yesterday.

Without going to Google I had visited Fry's, Circuit City, and Best Buy looking for a PC for a family member. After some research on these sites I decided I wanted to look at some comparison engines. I opened up a new browser window and went to Google, I did a search for "Comparison engines".

My results were very interesting.

Instead of a generic list of comparison engines touting to find the best prices for all products all the advertisements were related to PCs! Specifically HP PC's! I had not done a search on Google at any time for PCs, or on their shopping site.

Is Google using behavioral targeting already? I had heard there were announcements that this would happen with the acquisition of DoubleClick, but I have had no notice that it was in practice?

If it is being tested, how does this type of advertising effect the KW advertisements that are competing with it?”

So the question is “Is Google doing Behavioral Targeting on Search results using visitors behavior off the search engine?”

I have written quite few blog posts on this topic and have always believed that Google will get into Behavioral Targeting sooner or later.

It started “in-session” behavioral targeting on the Google search engine, which uses a user previous search query and combines with current query (both in same session) to provide sponsored results on the SERP (search engine results page).

This person noticed that Google was using more than search data to target sponsored results on Google SERP. The kind of behavioral targeting that this person is talking about can only happen if:

  1. Companies such as Best Buy, Fry’s, etc share their data with Google and allow Google to tie the users behavioral data collected on their site with other data that Google collects about those users (using a common cookie or some other common identifier).
    For this kind of data sharing to happen, Google (or Doubleclick) code has to be implemented on the pages (or servers) on those sites. I did not find any code, but it is possible that the code is there because if these sites are doing online advertising using Doubleclick then they must be putting the code to measure the success of these online ads. However, I highly doubt that they will let Google (Doubleclick) use the data collected on their site to power Google Search results unless Google is using the data to put their ad in front of users. Think about this. Why would Best Buy allow Google to use its data and allow it to show Circuit City’s or some other competitor ad?

  2. Google collects this data via a toolbar or some other application that tracks user across the sites and on search engines.
    This sounds like an option that might have been used to collect data, if Google really did do Behavioral Targeting. I am not sure if the user had a Google Toolbar installed. If the user did have a Google Toolbar, then Google could collect the data (and it does) and can use it anyway (debatable) (as long as they state so in their privacy policy). In this case, Google does not need to seek permission from Best Buy or Circuit City, because user, by installing the toolbar (and accepting the terms), is giving permission to Google to collect the data.

This brings up few more questions.

  • Who owns the data? It is up for debate.

  • Is it fair to Best Buy or Circuit City or any other site owners? That is a question that needs a bigger discussion.

  • Does Google has power and scale to collect data across sites and do targeting? Absolutely.



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