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They're calling it "interest-based targeting" rather than behavioral, but Google's finally allowing advertisers to target users based on what they've been surfing on the Web. With a twist. The company is handing over both tools and power to consumers who can find out why they're being served the ads they see, and also opt-out of the targeting by segment (if not entirely).
The program's still in beta (and beta at Google can last a long, long time). But once publishers get on board, consumers will have the option of viewing the categories they've been placed in: expectant mother, say, or travel. While they have the option of opting out of the program entirely, they can also opt out on a bucket-by-bucket basis, which may provide incentive for them to stick with the overall program.
With the FTC becoming more and more serious about industry self-regulation in the overlapping arenas of online privacy and behavioral targeting, Google seems to be doing the right thing at the right time. It's just plain hard to argue or find fault with a program that levels the playing field between advertiser and advertisee, particularly at a point in time at which the Feds have issued a stern mandate to the industry to disclose their practices and inform consumers.
Behavioral targeting has so far been pretty much an all or nothing game. The major players in teh field allow consumers to opt-out of their programs entirely, but not piece by piece. If successful, the technology behind this new product could have other valuable applications - in the personalization arena for example. Who hasn't bought a one-off gift on Amazon six years ago, only to be targeted by more merchandise in that particular category in perpetuity? Yes Amazon, too, allows its users to opt-out on the individual level, too. Enabling that functionality in advertising is a great leap forward.