The magic of Google

I bought a belt yesterday from Marks and Spencer‘s online store. A pretty routine activity – online shopping is indeed pretty routine these days – where I chose the item, authorized the payment and will see my purchase sometime today.

It wasn’t long after that virtual trip to M&S online that I noticed that nearly all the ads I was seeing on other websites I visited were for belts. Not only belts, but Marks and Spencer belts.

As I remarked on Twitter, “I bought a belt earlier from @marksandspencer online. Now, ads on every website I visits are for belts :)”

It got me thinking, though, about how much Google knows about you from your behaviour online. Not in a sinister or negative way but from a positive and useful perspective where your journeys across the social web in search for things of interest enable Google to serve up content that may match what you’re looking for.

In fact, Google knows a huge amount about you from your online activities, not only on the social web. Stuart Henshall posted this thought-provoking graphic that illustrates in a simple example actually what Google does know about you and your online activities.

I tend to see metrics like this in a benign light more than an alarming one, notwithstanding the constant revelations that suggest you can’t trust anyone these days.

I suppose it’s mainly because I’ve yet to see or experience anything that makes me believe I cannot trust the likes of Google at all to safeguard my personal information. My conspiracy-theory friends (yes, I do have some of those) think I’m terribly naive.

But if you employ a great deal of common sense in your risk assessment – how you behave online and what you do with the information about you that you can control – you should be able to sleep calmly at night.

All that said, though, how do you feel about what Google knows about you?

(via the Wall Street Journal via Marketing Pilgrim)

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. @kate_wooding

    On the other hand, if Google were so clever, it would realise you’d already BOUGHT the belt, and that showing you lots of pictures of belts that you’d already looked at, and decided NOT to buy is a pretty pointless activity. Now, if you were just window shopping and *hadn’t* bought the belt, Google reminding you about all those delicious belts that you were drooling over would be sensible (in my head I’m translating belts into shoes ;-)).

  2. Stuart Bruce (@stuartbruce)

    It also highlights how these systems are still in there infancy and rather crude.

    You’d just bought a belt. A Marks and Spencer belt. It’s unlikely you would want another belt immediately and if you did you already know Marks and Spencer does ones you like.

    The same is happening for me at the moment as I’ve been buying digital print online (short run leaflets and newsletters). I’ve used a company called Instantprint, which is both cheap and gives fantastic service. But every website I now visit has adverts for Instantprint. Why? I’ve just bought my print and don’t want any more this week. I’ve used it three times in the last four months. The first time I spent a lot of time searching Google to research options. The second two I just went straight to the answer – the company I’d already researched and trusted.

    Surely a more logical advert for you would have been say trousers, shirts or shoes to go with your belt? Or maybe envelopes or other types of print (folders, banners etc) for me.

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