This kind of trouble is lots of fun!
Google's plan to purchase online ad clearing house DoubleClick for $3.1 billion is generating lots of news. However, the real story isn't how much money the search engine/advertising/online services behemoth is willing to pay a gaggle of private investors. Nor is the real issue how this effects Microsoft or Yahoo (after all, do people really care?). Granted, Yahoo's efforts in the online search arena have been tepid to date, while Microsoft may end up taking only a small slice out of Google's virtual monopoly in Web ad serving.
No, the real story is how this effects me, Al Franken. In other words, the purchase could have far-reaching implications for regular folks who surf the Internet.
The main issue is how Google tracks people online (see "Google Owns You" below). Not only does it use its search engine to record every single click you make, but it can also correlate this information with Web site visits and visits to sponsored links. With the addition of DoubleClick, Google's tentacles could stretch even further. Specific ads can already be served to you based on your surfing habits, but now there's the potential to track how often you visit specific sites, make purchases, or click on ads across a much greater swath of the Web. (If you're skeptical, just take a look at how many cookies these sites store on your computer.)
Marketers, ever prone to creating high-concept neologisms for simple ideas, call this behaviorial marketing. Other folks call it spying. And the potential for abuse is quite real. Google already can shut down a small busines by denying its ad services without redress. And then there are the advertisers. A DoubleClick-Google monster could easily crowd out any remaining competition…and drive up prices.
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