The New York Times reports today that Google is now displaying ads on its search results page that are relevant to not just the search that you just performed, but also to the previous search. So, as Google explained in its comments to proposed FTC principles on behavioral ads, “a user who types ‘Italy vacation’ into the Google search box might see ads about Tuscany or affordable flights to Rome. If the user were to subsequently search for ‘weather,’ we might assume that there is a link between ‘Italy vacation’ and ‘weather’ and deliver ads regarding local weather conditions in Italy.”
These ads do not require using any personally-identifiable information. They don’t track behavior across websites. They deliver more relevant ads, which customers find more useful. Contextual ads such as Google’s are a great technological innovation. They keep the internet useful, vibrant, personalized, and largely free. Ads pay for your Gmail, your Google search, your free New York Times access, and even your blogs. As Google points out:
In fact, the majority of our advertising revenue from our AdSense network goes to our partners. In 2007, for example, we paid over $4.5 billion in revenue to web publishers that provide AdSense network ads on their sites.
Maintaining contextual ads and allowing further advertising innovations will be crucial to the continuous development of the free internet we love. The FTC had better not mess it up.