Jesse Brown: Who's afraid of "behaviour tracking"?

By Jesse Brown, CBC technology columnist:

Google has announced some new features for its AdSense network, and a predictable flood of horrified headlines have followed.

So what are we supposed to be afraid of?

Well, from now on, “interest-based” ads will serve you advertising based on the kind of sites you’ve visited before. Furthermore, “previous interaction” ads will be based on what you’ve done on those sites; to borrow Wired’s example, if you put a camera in your shopping cart but never actually purchased it, expect to see a lot of camera ads in the future.

Am I alone in not worrying about this? “Behaviour tracking” does sound scary, but let’s consider a couple of facts:

1. Google isn’t storing or sharing any behavioural information about us. Our histories are saved to cookies that live on our own computers, and even so, names and addresses aren’t included.

2. If it still really bothers you, you can opt out.

So who cares?

Actually, I do: I like these features.

Online ads need to get a lot better if the current economic model of the web is to survive. We expect wonderful online tools and content for free, which means this stuff must be supported by ads. Typically, by lousy ads- irrelevant, annoying, and ignorable ads.

If I have to live with advertising, I’d prefer it be relevant advertising. Knee-jerk privacy scares say more
about techphobia than about big-brother intrusions, and they cloud our thinking about true privacy worries.

For example: Google’s bug last weekend that allowed unauthorized users access to people’s Google Doc files. Though damage control was swift, this was a major foul-up. Cloud computing is a public trust, and this can’t happen again.

Let’s save our outrage for incidents like this.