Don't Be Evil, Revisited


Google and AOL cheerfully encouraged people worried about their privacy in the age of targeted ads to turn to technological solutions at an event today, and talked about ways they are trying to make it easier for users to block their ads. They were, of course, fending off government regulation.

The Network Advertising Initiative already offers a cookie that lets users opt out of ads from the biggest players, but cookies aren't 100 percent protection, they can expire or be erased.

Google chief privacy officer Jane Horvath predicted that in the future, there may be a technological solution "that will have a cookie or something that will allow this (opt-out preference) to be a constant," adding, "that would be a very promising direction to go."

Other much worse, likely less effective ideas include a federal Do Not Track database, similar to the Do Not Call list. And this:

A broad coalition of consumer and privacy advocates last fall called on the Federal Trade Commission to establish such a registry. The concept is this: Any advertising entity that sets a "persistent" cookie on a user's machine would be required to give the FTC the domain names of servers used to place it. Consumers would then be able to import that list of domain names and block them from tracking their Internet surfing behavior.

Polonetsky said that while he supports the concept, "I think the way to do it isn't a government place where your browser goes and gets stuff."

This sounds like a little bit of the old "Don't Be Evil" to me: Working to make it easier for people opt out is pretty sportsman-like. Personally, even if I could permanently opt out, I'm not sure I would. At least for now, eerily well-targeted ads, like the "Barack and Roll t-shirts" the scroll bar at the top of my email is currently offering, still amuse me. For more ads like these, and fewer for penis pills, I'll happily accept Google's electronic nose sniffing in my email.