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Google Reveals Search Targeting Practices

We know that Google gathers lots of data about its users, but we've never known how the search giant uses it to filter individual search results. However, earlier this week, the company decided to shine a little light on that process, explaining how it customizes search results in a blog post. In short, Google uses search data to guess where you are and what you're most likely searching for.

Now, a small note in the upper-right-hand corner of the results page will alert users when this is happening. For example, the note could read, "customized for the San Francisco metro area." The text may also provide a link to a page that has additional information. There, Google displays the IP address it used to determine that the search came from San Francisco. It also identifies the search terms it has taken into account to determine this. Not only that, but the page also includes a link to the search results that would have come up if Google hadn't taken into account the user information. This way, Google is allowing people to make choices about how much information to give to Google.

In his report, The New York Times' Saul Hansell applauds Google for taking steps toward helping people understand what the company is doing with their information. That said, it doesn't answer questions about how Google uses this information on its other pages. The disclosure only refers to search results, not advertising, which is the second important area where Google leverages user data. As Hansell says, "I'd like to be able to see what data was used in deciding to show an ad to me and who will get what information if I click on it. Yes, some of this may be seen as "proprietary" information, but to my mind a company that wants to use my "proprietary" history of Web surfing needs to come clean about what it is doing with that data.

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Read the whole story at The New York Times »

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