Google: Our ad tracking is not Big Brother

Google - watching you, watching ads
Google - watching you, watching ads

Google has launched targeted ads, but has told TechRadar that it hopes its transparency and a clear opt out procedure will stave off those accusing the company of Big Brother tactics.

Behavioural advertising - tracking what sites users visit and then serving them adverts that are relevant to their usage - has become one of the most controversial topics on the internet since Phorm was trialled on an unknowing audience.

Although the IAB has since drawn up guidelines about the way in which companies should use behavioural advertising, the entire topic has widely been touted as an Orwellian nightmare.

However Google, which has labelled its service 'interest based advertising', believes other companies have approached the whole topic in the wrong way. It's keen to be transparent in the way in which its ad server works.

Being transparent

"We at Google believe that other companies have done this in the wrong way by not being transparent enough with the users about what's happening with their data and information," a Google spokesman told TechRadar.

"Our Ads Preference Manager not only allows users to set what topics interest them, but also allows them to opt out entirely or tailor what ads they are getting."

The tracking is cookie based, and deleting the relevant cookie will mean that users' behaviour is also lost.

"This is the brand new thing for us but forms of behavioural targeting have been around for a long time," added the spokesman. "We never prepared to enter this area until we had this innovation in place."

Plug-ins to opt out

The Google spokesman also told TechRadar that plug-ins would be available for major browsers, so that people could choose to opt out permanently, even if they had deleted the relevant cookie.

"If you click through to opt out, there's a plugin for Firefox and IE8 and it will give you a permanent opt out. "A permanent opt out is also being worked on Chrome but it's newly out of beta and doesn't support it yet. The in-built protection for users is something we are quite proud about."

Opt out and not opt in

Although Google's transparent approach does both confirm to the IAB standards and make it clear to users what is going on, the controversy around the entire topic is unlikely to go away, especially because the default for the tracking is that you are opted in until you say otherwise.

Google insists on its official blog that behavioural advertising is necessary.

"By making ads more relevant, and improving the connection between advertisers and our users, we can create more value for everyone. Users get more useful ads, and these more relevant ads generate higher returns for advertisers and publishers.

"Advertising is the lifeblood of the digital economy: it helps support the content and services we all enjoy for free online today, including much of our news, search, email, video and social networks."

Behavioural advertising was heavily satirised in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, but Google are not the first or likely the last company to bring targeted adverts to the market.

The fact remains that people's behaviour is tracked online. Unless people actively opt out of this then it is going to happen regardless of their view on the matter

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.