Ads and Privacy

Data Mining, Targeted Ads and Google's Drive Service

To begin, Google's Drive service has now been launched, and amid much speculation about features and storage (as well as comparison to other services), there seems to be a lot of noise about a section of Google's TOS that covers this:

Your content in our services: When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.

The rights that you grant in this licence are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This licence continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing that you have added to Google Maps)."

Google is, first and foremost, an advertising company. That is their main revenue stream, and what the majority of their products aid. Google products collect data about you, which is then used with their advertising services to display relevant ads - more relevant ads result in a higher click through rate and therefore are better for the people paying for the ad to be placed, as they get better value for money (lower cost per conversion). So, of course Google is going to mine your data to display ads that are relevant to you, these services have to make money, Google is a business (though I must stress that some Google projects apparently don't).

When you use any free service that mines your data, you are the product, not the customer. Your data is used to make money - that's why it's valuable (often also why the service is free to the user, too) and that's how companies that do this make their money - and there's nothing shady or invasive about that. You make the decision to hand over your data in exchange for these services, it's up to you to read through the terms of service and decide if it is acceptable to you - if not, don't use the service.

We often use Google's targeted ads system to achieve fantastic cost per conversion rates for our clients, this would not be possible without those millions of people having their data scanned and interpreted. Google penalise you for displaying irrelevant ads by putting the cost per display of that ad up, and help to display relevant ads by lowering their cost per display. This directly benefits the user, as they're seeing ads relevant to their interests and directly benefits advertisers by showing their ads to people most likely to be interested.

Something that seems to be forgotten all too easily is what the internet was like before the arrival of such targeted ads: intrusive advertisements that often were of no interest to the user and often saw terrible cost per conversions for the advertiser. Isn't having your data mined to display relevant ads that might be of some use to you (and driving down the cost per conversion to advertisers) a good thing?