Does Google Ad Planner = Privacy Concerns?

Just a few days after launching Google Website Trends, Google revealed the real purpose of all that nice new data: Google Ad Planner. Launching just yesterday, it is "a research and media planning tool that connects advertisers and publishers." In plain English, Ad Planner enables you to find websites for placing your ads based on behavioral ad targeting and demographics. Figuring out where all that data is coming from has people -- including me -- scratching our heads. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

How does this thing work? Well, it's still in private beta, but from what I can gather, you give Ad Planner the demographics or favorite web sites of your target audience and, according to Google, the tool will...

...return information about sites (both on and off the Google content network) that your audience is likely to visit. You can drill down further to get more detail like demographics and related searches for a particular site, or you can get aggregate statistics for the sites you've added to your media plan.

This also sheds some light on how Google is planning on integrating with the recently acquired Double Click.

Google Ad Planner Demographic Screenshot

Oddly enough, all that data Ad Planner spits out won't actually integrate with Google AdWords. It will, however, plug straight into the Double Click platform, Media Visor. Not using Double Click? You can export your data into a .csv file -- I'm unsure how that will plugin to something like AdWords Editor.

To return to my first question, where is this data coming from? I've been reading plenty of speculations, and while some if it is a bit doomsday-ish; Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land had a good post regarding Google's mysterious data reservoir. When he asked Google where the demographic data was being drawn from -- specifically asking if the Google Toolbar was playing a part -- this was Google's response:

We do not disclose the elements of our secret sauce as these elements are subject to change. Similar to Google search, disclosing our data sources could also encourage people to game the system. You can imagine some websites would want to make their numbers look more attractive and would try to find ways to game Google Trends for Websites estimates. In addition, it takes time to determine which of these data sources will end up being useful, and it turns out that combining various sources of data ensures higher quality.

While you can't access the Google Ad Planner yet; you can access the Ad Planner help pages. Here is Google's official take about how the data is being generated:

Google Ad Planner combines information from a variety of sources, such as aggregated Google search data, opt-in anonymous Google Analytics data, opt-in external consumer panel data, and other third-party market research. The data is aggregated over millions of users and powered by computer algorithms; it doesn't contain personally-identifiable information. In addition, Google Ad Planner only shows results for sites that receive a significant amount of traffic, and enforces minimum thresholds for inclusion in the tool.

It makes sense that the folks at Google wouldn't just tell everyone -- it really is their secret sauce and people really would game the system. However, I have a hard time believing Google Analytics data and opt-in panels alone provide the type of data the Ad Planner is purported to provide. I'm not accusing Google of shady behavior; but I do think this will bring even more scrutiny into data sharing and privacy concerns from our lovely government. And Google's recent agreement with Yahoo! (and the other 1,000 things that Google gets accused of) certainly isn't helping ease the paranoid mind.

All that to say, I'm eager to give this tool a try; but I'm equally as eager to respect privacy and ensure we are marketing in an ethical and respectful manner. I'd love to hear others thoughts, and I again point you to the aforementinoed Search Engine Land post as well as a post on Techcrunch also regarding the Google Toolbar. Ah, the interwebs...they never allow a boring day. Again, what's your opinion?

Josh Chambers

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Posted in Article Category: #Strategy
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