Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is Google going a little too far?

I use a number of Google services which I find to very useful. A little while ago I signed on to a Google service I use, checked some things and then signed off. During that session (I don't know if I was signed on or not) I also did some searching for power generators, as I'm researching solar electricity. I decided it was time for breakfast and so closed my computer down.

I'm dieting and whilst having breakfast I came up with an idea. I've written a calculator which enables people to determine their Body Mass Index and Basal Metabolic Rate. The calculator produces stats which people can use to diet. I use this technique and have lost 20kg.

I was thinking perhaps using my calculator differently might make it easier for people to lose weight. I have a belief that in general we become overweight because we eat more than our body needs (a fairly obvious statement). In effect we eat the amount of food for the weight our body will become. What if we determined how much we want to weigh and then eat the amount of food required to sustain that weight. If we are overweight, then in time we'll become the weight we are aiming to achieve.

I opened up my computer went to  (which is where I have the BMI/BMR calculator) and clicked on the graphic to the page. I then entered my numbers and hit submit. I got two very interesting results. The calculator gave me the answer of approximately 8,943kJs per day. That's the answer I wanted. If I eat at that energy level then in theory, I should eventually become roughly the weight I entered. To me that's an incredible way to think about dieting. Eat for the weight you want to be.

That is vastly different from dieting. For example, to diet I eat between 6000-6500 kJs per day. It isn't hard to diet, but dieting is about correcting my overeating from the past, a weight which I gained over many years and taking off over a shorter period. Eating for the weight you want to be means over a much longer period of time your weight will come down to what you want it to be and it will take much less effort. Like the turtle and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.

However, what I didn't expect was the Google ad results at the top of the page.

The ads don't relate to the page. They relate to the Google searches I performed in an earlier session. It appears Google is recording information relating to my searches and linking it to me.. The BMI/BMR page has nothing to do with power generators and I didn't perform any searche in the current session.

Google appears to be taking information from one session about what I'm interested in and then at a later time showing me ads relating to my earlier interest. To do that it means Google has to be tracking me as an individual in some way. To me that's a bit, shall I say, freaky. Based on my knowledge of computers, I know it is possible in theory to identify and track an individual on the internet. That person may not be known by name, but a name after all is just a tag. Whether my name is Kelvin or Bob doesn't really matter. Tracking me at an individual level I feel has gone one step too far. By all means if I'm looking at a page relating to weight loss display weight loss ads. If I'm searching for information relating to power generators then in the results display relevant ads. But follow my movements on the internet and then present advertising based on what I've shown interest in previously, now that's creepy.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I know this can be done in a number of ways. I just hadn't seen it implemented until now. I suppose it really boils down to knowing that if you go to one site and provide information, then going to another site which has some form of relationship to the first site means you can be tracked. Lots of organisations put code onto their pages which potentially enables third party organisations to track users' movements.

I certainly learnt something today I didn't really think about too much before and will now review some of the pages on my site.

I've said to many people over the years whenever you sign on to the internet (or probably any modem form of communication) your movements can be traced to you personally. Who has access to that information and how those people use that information is outside of our control. One thing for sure is it will be in their interest and not necessarily ours. Perhaps knowing a little more will help us to make better decisions.

- Kelvin Eldridge

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.