On Profiling, And Google’s Big Double-Cross

Google announced a new plan this week to help news publishers make money: Readers will be presented with a short marketing survey they have to complete before reading an article. Google consumer surveys is a clever enough way for a publisher to get more revenue without putting up more ads — or a dreaded paywall — and Google says replies will be anonymous.

As the poet Rumi once wrote, “I heard that lie.”


Ryan Singel

In fact, you should never again believe any privacy promise Google makes, since it’s now decided that its old promises don’t count and its future depends on it building the most comprehensive profile of you that it can.

Google has said for years that it wouldn’t profile its users and built data silos to make it so. So for instance, Gmail debuted with ads that were keyed off words in a single e-mail. Mention pizza in an e-mail, you’d get an ad for pizza. It was a dumb system, with no memory of what you’d written. Over time, Google slowly expanded this so the ads you see on your newest e-mail might relate to an e-mail that was very recent — not quite dumb, but not quite a profile.

The same went for search. Ads were keyed off your search term, for only that search. It’s the most profitable advertising system in the world, and it had no profiling.

Recently, that was changed a bit so that if you recently searched for “New York airfare” and then a few searches later for “hotel,” you might get an ad for New York Hotels. Not quite dumb, but not quite a profile. Even Google’s AdSense program that shows ads on millions of non-Google sites either as keyword ads keyed off a page’s content or display ads was firewalled.

There was a profile here, but it was based on inferences made based solely on the pages that you visited that were running AdSense (now known as DoubleClick). Nothing from your Gmail account or search history played any role.

Then in 2009, Google punched a small hole in this wall so that what you do in YouTube could become part of that profile. Definitely a profile, but far removed from the sensitiveness that is your search history and e-mail.

Those walls were leveled on March 1 by Google.

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