Disclosure: I have both disagreed and agreed with various Google actions over the last few years.
Saul Hansell over at NY Times’ Bits blog reports:
Google’s massive reservoir of data about online behavior, gathered by tracking hundreds of millions of computers, is like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is a resource that might or might not be exploited safely, and there certainly should be a robust debate before the drilling starts.
Google assigns every computer that visits its sites a unique identifying number — known as a cookie — and records searches and other activities in an unimaginably large file along with those cookies. The company has maintained that it hasn’t used any of that information to draw inferences about users to target ads.
Google acknowledges that it is now testing ways to use some of the data it has been gathering to better aim search ads at Web surfers, although it won’t say how.
This small change in Google’s behavior was first discovered by Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray[.]
Hansell notes that this use of individual search data for targeted advertising is the complete opposite of what Google has said in the past.
Since Google has been so emphatic that it hasn’t used cookies in its ad system, it may well owe users notification that that is changing, even in tests. And as it starts to use more data, some users may want the ability to preclude the use of their online activity for advertising.