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Common Sense About AdSense
What you see depends on what you surf. Context is key to a new advertising program being tested by the always innovative folks at Google. As one article explained, Google plans a "behavioral targeting system" that will "read your browsing history, then cater ads based on where you've been."

Privacy watchdogs are predictably upset. An official at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) described Google's plans as "a disaster. 'It's about whether the most dominant Internet media firm should be able to exploit its access to Internet user data for advertising purposes.'" Which raises the question, why not? Why shouldn't Google profit from the search services they provide to the public?

EPIC is calling "on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to halt Google's plans." What the NGO has not done is identify a market failure that would warrant agency action. Regulation should be a last resort for preventing harm, not a first resort for banning actions an interest group happens to dislike. Instead of regulation, the FTC has issued a detailed set of "Self-Regulatory Principles For Online Behavioral Advertising."

If someone doesn't care for the ads Google displays, they can simply ignore them. If their paranoia sensors start getting all tingly, they can use the tools provided by Google to either opt-out of the targeted advertising altogether or tailor the ads to their personal preferences. A company official explained that to "provide greater privacy protections to users, we will not serve interest-based ads based on sensitive interest categories. For example, we don't have health status interest categories or interest categories designed for children."

Some consumers will not be satisfied with Google's privacy protection tools or the FTC Guidelines. These individuals have additional non-regulatory options to further guard their privacy. For example, they can stop looking for the really naughty stuff.

See FTC Staff Report

See Google blog

See Google Public Policy Blog

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