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Opting IN with Google, so you can Opt-out of Tracking

Google has announced its new behavioral ad targeting, and acknowledged some of the privacy and protection guidelines in development around the world. They note:

  • United States Federal Trade Commission “Principles of Online Advertising”(PDF)
  • Network Advertising Initiative’s Self-Regulating Conduct paper
  • the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Threshold Analysis for Online Advertising Practices (PDF)
  • Internet Advertising Bureau (UK) Good Practice Principles¬† (here)

They also note that they would like to allow users to “opt out” of behavioral targeting (a technology which is based on tracking), but the only way they have to track these days is cookie technology. So according to Google, if you chose to opt out, Google must record that opt out preference in a cookie, but that cookie will be cleared if you clear your browser cookies. In other words, if you clear your cookies you are once again opted-in, even though you chose to opt-out.

So according to the new release, Google invented new technology to prevent that “problem”.¬† Google now offers a new browser plugin which will prevent you from clearing the Doubleclick cookie when you purposefully clear your browser cookies. That’s right, it’s a cookie-clearing-block plugin, specifically protecting the Doubleclick cookie which is supposed to opt you out of behavioral targeting:

The Google advertising cookie opt-out plugin is a browser extension which permanently saves the DoubleClick opt-out cookie in your browser, allowing you to save your opt-out status even when you clear all cookies…

Yes, you read correctly. Google produced a plugin to protect their cookie against cookie deletion. They explain how t works, as well:

The plug works like this: When you clear all cookies in your browser, the plugin automatically sets the DoubleClick opt-out cookie again, so that cookie is effectively not deleted and your opt-out setting stays enabled.

It seems pretty obvious to me that this double-negative ridiculousness comes from Google’s reliance on tracking as an opt out process.¬† They can’t just tell you to block their cookie, because they make 98% of their profits from advertising. So the double-negative “block the blocking” stuff is presented as a solution. Now you can save your preferences to NOT see certain types of ads, but to utilize that new feature you have to enable permanent tracking for Google only. Got that?

In summary, Google suggests you can now choose to not see certain kinds of ads, provided you enable a permanent Doubleclick cookie so they can track you and abide by your preferences.

I’m still thinking through the logic of this one, and wondering how quickly we will see this plugin as a default install on new PCs, pushed out with Adobe Reader updates, etc etc etc. No mention of the Flash storage tracking either.

It seems just about everyone is scared by Google’s new decision to track user behavior, because of past hints at how your use of Google to search for things can be easily used to deny you insurance, pre-screen you as a job candidate, or predict your future behavior. Some posts:


  1. Eric wrote:

    This plugin does sound a bit, eh, what’s the word… Ridiculous!

    Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  2. Desi wrote:

    How long til we hear “Oops. The plugin’s been busted for (days/months/years), sorry!” And then not bothering to fix it… Or “Plug in won’t work in (IE/Safari/Opera).” (Too Bad.)

    Don’t like it. I miss the old Google pre invasiveness creep. Sigh. They want better control, better profits.

    Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  3. Glyn wrote:

    What I don’t see in any of the “self regulatory” guidelines is any provision in terms of what happens to collected personal data when a company goes bankrupt (does this data become an asset which can be resold) or if a company gets taken over (perhaps the owning company is not one with whom you would wish to share any personal information at all).

    These would be two things I’d want to have addressed as part of my PII concerns.


    Friday, March 20, 2009 at 6:33 am | Permalink