What is Google Adsense’s “interest-based advertising”?

James Ryan Jonas

A week ago, Google Adsense sent publishers an email informing them of the upcoming launch of interest-based advertising and what changes must be implemented in the site’s Privacy Policy.

What is “interest-based advertising”?

It is basically a way for Google advertisers to reach more targeted users by showing ads based on the interests of a site visitor. If a user, for example, watches a lot of music videos on YouTube and visits primarily entertainment sites, Adsense will show more entertainment-related ads to that user, regardless of the site that user is in.

Huh? What does that mean?

Let’s say Joey is a regular visitor of our site, PinoyMoneyTalk.com, and he clicks on one of Adsense’s finance-related ads. Google will drop a cookie on Joey’s browser which monitors the sites he visits and even the videos he watches on YouTube. If Google discovers that Joey visits sports websites too and watches a lot of sports videos on YouTube, next time he visits PinoyMoneyTalk.com, Google Adsense will show sports ads to Joey even though “sports” is not contextual to the PinoyMoneyTalk.com site.

Is this the same as “behavioral targeting”?

Quite like it. Because Google’s cookie tracks the online behavior of site users to be able to show “interest-based” ads, it is basically serving ads based on the “online behavior” of a user.

Isn’t that invasion of privacy?

You could say that, but Google supposedly assures all users that any information collected will not be used to identify users personally and will not be used to show ads based on personal information. According to Google, “we will not show ads based on sensitive information or interest categories, such as those based on race, religion, sexual orientation, health, or sensitive financial categories, without a user’s opt-in consent.”

As a Google Adsense publisher, would I earn more from this?

According to Google, yes. Because more relevant ads will be shown to your visitors although the ads are not “in context” with the actual topic of your site, there will supposedly be more ad clicks from the user.

Do I need to update anything?

Yes. Google requires that Adsense publishers update their Privacy Policy statements by April 8, 2009. The Privacy Policy must contain at least three things:

  1. that Goole uses cookies to serve ads on the site;
  2. that the cookie serve ads to users based on their visit to sites on the internet; and
  3. that the user may opt out of the use of Google’s cookie by visiting Google’s ad and content network privacy policy.

This is confusing. Is there a sample Privacy Policy I can use?

Google does not suggest any particular language for the Privacy Policy but you can check out our sample Privacy Policies which abide by Google’s new changes.

Is this going to be good or bad for us Adsense publishers?

No one knows. After Adsense launches this in April, we’ll know whether this would benefit or hurt publishers.

What do you think? Will “interest-based advertising” be good or bad for you?

James Ryan Jonas teaches business management, investments, and entrepreneurship at the University of the Philippines (UP). He is also the Executive Director of UP Provident Fund Inc., managing and investing P3.2 Billion ($56.4 Million) worth of retirement funds on behalf of thousands of UP employees.