From the New York Times (Google Tries Tighter Aim for Web Ads)
Google, with its deep reservoir of data about online behavior gathered by tracking hundreds of millions of computers, is for the first time testing ways to use some of that data to aim ads at Web users.
Ads that a person sees on one Google search may be influenced by what was searched a few minutes earlier. Searching for “scuba,” then something else, and then “vacations” could pull up ads for diving trips, for example.
This small but significant change in Google’s strategy was discovered by Gene Munster, a securities analyst at Piper Jaffray, who this year started a series of tests looking at which ads were displayed in a series of queries on Google’s search engine. Google assigns every computer that visits its sites a unique number — known as a cookie — and records searches and other activities in an unimaginably large file with those cookies.
The company previously said that it had not used any of that information to draw inferences about users for the purpose of selecting ads to show them.
As I described last year (What if Google finds out you have cancer before you do?)
[I]t’s more than possible for your search pattern in Google to reveal that you may have a disease before you and your doctor figure it out. A friend got a little worried when ads for Neulasta started popping up along his searches. The drug, made by Amgen…
…is prescribed to reduce the risk of infection (initially marked by fever) in patients with some tumors receiving strong chemotherapy that decreases the number of infection-fighting white blood cells.
There is something creepy about getting a knock from a virtual grim reaper even when if it turns out to be a false alarm. As ad placement technology gets better and better I expect you’ll see examples of targeted advertising portending the diagnosis of serious illness.
The scuba vacations example is fairly trivial compared with the cancer diagnosis scenario. Now tie in Google Checkout, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Health and the rest of the Google product line and you have the basis for some pretty spooky scenes. Let’s see if Mr. Munster can figure out what to say about that.June 30, 2008