Google: Bad Behavior?

It seems that every time I’m getting ready to go on a family holiday, Google decides to up the game with personalization. Two years ago on the cusp of a spring getaway they announced default opt ins for search and web history. This time, they’re siddling up to behavioral targeting, courtesy of that same personal information. In the process, they’ve recanted much of what they’ve said about behavioral targeting over the past 2 years. I have always said that of course Google was going to go down the behavioral targeting road. Why else would they be collecting the data? The official line of making your search experience better didn’t hold much water.

I’m torn on the whole question of behavioral targeting. As a marketer, I appreciate the potential. BT was the tactic that marketers were most interested in according to the latest SEMPO Search Market Survey. But as a user, I’m profoundly disappointed in Google’s tip toeing around the issue. I think it shows a more fundamental issue at the heart of Google’s culture, which has been rearing it’s head more often as of late.

The disastrous economy has created a split personality within Google.It seems that Google, once the brash, idealistic young university student out to change the world is now being severely schooled in the more pragmatic ways of that world. Google is growing up, and I’m not sure we’ll like what it turns into. It’s double talking, pulling the bait and switch, sacrificing ideals for cash and sometimes outright lying. In short, it’s becoming just like every other company in the world. The company John Battelle wrote about in The Search is rapidly disappearing. In it’s place is an online juggernaut that seems intent on keeping advertisers happy. The one thing that always set Google apart was it’s respect for the user. If you read the official Google press release on this, the carrot for the user is more relevant ads. Okay,that’s a stretch of epic proportions. You’re tracking everything I do, based on a promise to make my search experience more useful. You know what? My search experience hasn’t changed too much in the last 2 years. I haven’t noticed a huge increase in relevancy. But now you’re using the information I volunteered, giving it to marketers so they can serve me more ads? That wasn’t part of the original bargain Google. You violated my trust. And you did it to keep more revenue rolling in.

Behavioral targeting of ads was inevitable. Everyone knew Google was going there. So why were they so righteous (and so dismissive of other BT providers) in saying that it just wasn’t a targeting approach they were going to take? Not cool, Google, not cool.

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