March 26, 2015

 TV Ads Delivered via Google Fiber:

Mad Men’s Dreams Come True at the Cost of Viewers’ Privacy?

By: Erin L. Bansal

Google recently announced the trial of a new service in the Kansas City metro area through its Google Fiber Internet and television service that will allow it to personalize ads based on a viewer’s locality and viewing habits. This capability is “dynamic ad insertion” in marketing parlance. AdWeek described this capability more dramatically –as “advertising’s Holy Grail.” Likewise, The New York Times described Google’s service as a potential “sea change” in TV advertising. But while Madison Avenue and its Mad Men may embrace Google’s new service, what does it mean for the viewers watching television in the privacy of their own homes?

In simple terms, Google’s service will give it the ability to deliver more tailored ads and then to accurately monitor the viewing of those ads. Google will be able to insert an ad whenever it is timely, and they relay that viewing back to the marketer. As Google reported, the fiber TV ads will be “digitally delivered in real time and can be matched based on geography, the type of program being shown (sports, news, etc.), or viewing history.” Google can tailor the fiber TV ads to both live TV and DVRed programs. In addition, Google can give marketers a more accurate idea of how many people are watching an ad. Unlike Nielsen’s rating system that is based on old school sampling, each TV with Google’s service will report back to marketers.

For TV viewers, this new service raises some old concerns. While some have suggested that this service is no different than Google tracking a user’s browser history in the online world, the thought that Google can now monitor what shows a viewer is watching raises concerns. Wired remarked that this is “yet another way for Google to collect even more data about you.” It further noted that Americans are “not used to the idea that the shows we watch will be logged and turned into advertising fodder.”

At this point, Google is sensitive to privacy concerns. AdWeek reports that “a source familiar with the deal” explained that “Google is trying to be extra cautious with user privacy on this initiative.” Google asserts that viewers can opt out of being shown ads based on their viewing history. However, AdWeek points out that Google has not specified what it means by “viewing history” or how the opt-out process might work. And although users of Google’s web services can similarly opt out of ads based on their browsing history, few users choose to do so.

While Google’s trial of fiber ads is limited to a small number of viewers in a limited geographic area at this time, it is not difficult to image Google growing to become a ubiquitous force in the TV world given its dominance in online search and the functionality its Internet service offers (its Fiber Internet service is reportedly 100 times faster than the standard broadband connection). Perhaps Google will be able to design the privacy settings in Google Fiber and its TV service so that viewers feel that they can control their private information. But with opt-out as the standard default, a viewer is no more likely to take control while flipping channels on TV than she is while surfing the Internet.