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Why Google's personalised ads are not evil

With the consumer protection act in full swing and the whole world concerned about online privacy, Google’s personalised ads have become a thorny issue for some. However, with closer inspection it becomes clear that what Google is doing is by no means intrusive or remotely evil.

Google’s business model relies on advertising – it pays the salaries of their employees and keeps their innovative products free. This in effect attracts millions of users, which in turn attracts more advertising. It’s a resilient model that has kept Google products a firm favourite with users all over the world and has inspired other companies such as Facebook and Twitter.

Google ads and how they work

Google’s personalised ads are targeted and personalised Pay Per Click ads that are served to users through Google’s AdWords server. These ads are seen by millions of users everyday – so how does Google seem to “know” what you need, or searched for in order to serve you ads that are spot-on in terms of personalisation. And how do they do this without snooping about in your private affairs?

Google ads are not evil

The answer is actually surprisingly simple. In the same way that word processors are able to identify words as you type them in order to identify spelling mistakes, Google is able to “read” what you type into its search bar or your Gmail account. The word scanning technology picks up keywords that Google then uses to match with ads containing or pertaining to those keywords.

Google Display Network

For interest based targeting Google teams up with hundreds of thousands of sites and blogs through the Google Display Network. The Display Network is Google’s name for all the sites where Google’s AdWord ads can appear. Every partner that wishes to join this network needs to adhere to Google’s standards and inform them of the nature of their site. This means that these sites are safe and appropriate for users according to Google’s advertising policy.

So how do these ads “know” who you are when you visit or predict what you are looking for? This is achieved through cookies. When you visit a site that’s part of the Google Display Network, that site places a cookie in your browser. The cookie is a simple file that is able to identify which site in the display network you visited and what category it falls under (e.g. sport, entertainment, music). When you visit another site in the network you will see ads which correspond to the cookie saved from your previous visit.

No snooping

Ultimately, Google has mastered the art of intuitive advertising. By picking up key words and phrases Google can serve ads without actually knowing who you are. Cookies too, are really harmless and can sometimes help sites “remember” you and your language preferences for example. So breathe a sigh of relief and remember: personalised advertising gives consumers more relevant ads and helps keep services free -no snooping required.

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