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Google launches targeted personal ads

Google has entered the sometimes controversial arena of behaviour-based advertising. It has launched a system that will serve up ads to web users based on their previous online activities. The search giant is offering users the chance to see and edit their profiles and it will also offer them the choice to opt out of the service. But privacy campaigners are outraged by the move, with Privacy International calling for a parliamentary enquiry. The trial service launches on YouTube and Google from 11 March but advertisers will not be able to display advertisements until April. Initially a handful of advertisers will be invited to take part. The system uses a cookie - a small piece of text that lives inside a web browser - to track users as they visit different websites that show ads through its AdSense program. Users will be assigned to categories based on the content of the pages they visit.

“If a user is a keen traveller and visits lots of travel sites, Google could show them more travel-related ads,” the search giant said in a statement. “We believe that ads are a valuable source of information that can connect people to products, services and ideas that interest them. By making ads more relevant and improving the connection between advertisers and our users, we can create more value,” it said. But Simon Davies, head of Privacy International, has his doubts. “Google might well hype their targeting system as a boon to pet owners, but the reality is that the service will track just about everything you do and everything you’re interested in, no matter how personal or sensitive. Some privacy campaigners believe Google should have offered its advertising service on an opt-in rather than an opt-out basis. “The cookie doesn’t show up any personally identifiable information so that is why we think opt-out is the right way to go,” said a Google spokesman. Information on YouTube , such as the videos people have been watching, will “be factored into” the system, said the spokesman.

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