Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Big Brother Google is Watching!

As some of you may be aware, for quite some time Google has been tracking all Google Searches of users who are logged into Google. It may or may not be a big deal to you, and many don't really care. I mean, if you don't want your searches to be tracked, then just log out of Google.

However, something that a lot of people may be totally oblivious to is Google's new tracking cookie. Essentially Google can now record the surfing behaviour of any user that visits a site using AdSense. Note, not the behaviour of users you click around on a site - users who visit a site. No clicking required.

As soon as the page loads, the cookie uses a unique ID to tag and track your surfing behaviour. The system is essentailly very similar to the system that has been developed over the last decade for the cookie.

And with a huge amount of sites now featuring AdSense, this is a very big catchnet that Google has created. For instance, AdSense can be found on,, and a large number of blogs and user generated sites. And even if there isn't any sign of AdSense on the site, remember that DoubleClick is one of the largest Ad Serving companies around and chances are it's them delivering the ads that you see on a daily basis. In short, this is everywhere.

Although Google are on record as saying that they only sort users by broad interest groups, the movement of the industry towards behaviourally targeted ads means that it would be stupid for Google not to retain the full breath of data capture that these cookies are known to be capable of. Time stamp, IP address, URL and unique identifier are all collected and relayed back to Google as soon as you hit that page.

It's certainly food for thought, and makes me consider one of the first blog posts I ever wrote about How much you can trust your ISP - Google may not be an ISP but it seems it won't be long before they have the same tracking cpabilities.


Stephen said...

Just out of curiosity, are you for or against this type of tracking? I am thinking you are for it seeing you host your blog through Google.

Disclosure: I work for Microsoft on the Atlas ad serving product.

Christian Hughes said...

Hi Stephen, don't misunderstand me - I am a Google fan and use many of the tools and services offered by them. However, I think it's important to maintain transparency when it comes to data-capture and I think that there are many cases of companies (including Google) not being as transparent as they could. I would suggest that if any information about an individual is being stored, be it anonomously or not, that person needs to be informed about it up front.