Feeds

Google behavioral ad targeter is a Smart Ass

Distributed ad crunching

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Google is handling its interest-based advertising behavioral ad targeting from a custom-built ad server known internally as Smart Ass, or smart ad serving system.

According to a former Google employee, the system was under development as far back as 2006, and a second person with knowledge of the server says it was deployed sometime before the end of 2008.

The system is designed to simultaneously crunch various sets of stored data related to each individual user before deciding which online ads that user should see. Like the rest of Google's vast back-end infrastructure, it relies heavily on distributed-computing techniques. The task of serving up an ad is broken up into myriad pieces, and each piece is handled by a separate computing resource

One thread, for instance, might examine a user past search history. Another might look at past ad clicks. And so on. It operates in much the same way as, say, applications built atop Google App Engine, the Mountain View web service that lets you tap into the company's distributed infrastructure. With App Engine, a system request is terminated if it takes more than 30 seconds or returns more than 10MB of data. Everything must be broken into relatively small chucks that can then be distributed across the Google back-end.

In March 2009, Google announced that on YouTube and across its AdSense network of third-party sites, it had begun showing ads to websurfers based on the pages they've visited in the past. The company preferred to call this "interest-based advertising." But it's typically known as behavioral ad targeting.

"We think we can make online advertising even more relevant and useful by using additional information about the websites people visit," Google vice president Susan Wojcicki wrote at that time in a blog post entitled "Making ads more interesting."

"Today, we are launching 'interest-based' advertising as a beta test on our partner sites and on YouTube," she continued. "These ads will associate categories of interest - say sports, gardening, cars, pets - with your browser, based on the types of sites you visit and the pages you view. We may then use those interest categories to show you more relevant text and display ads."

Google called the new scheme a beta test and indicated it had not been deployed on its search engine. It did hint, however, that it had done at least a modicum of behavioral ad targeting before this. "To date, we have shown ads based mainly on what your interests are at a specific moment," Wolcicki said. The key word is "mainly."

In an effort to fend off privacy complaints, Google launched the scheme in tandem with something called an Ad Preferences Manager, which lets you view and edit the ad categories into which Google has placed you based on your past behavior. It also offered a cookie-based opt-out and a browser plug-in that kept your opt-out even when cookies were cleared.

Though Google did not discuss this during its official launch, it later told The Reg that the new scheme meant that Google was now using the same user cookie across both AdSense and its DoubleClick display ad platform. But it would not be drawn on how much user data was pooled across the two platforms.

We asked Google to discuss its Smart Ass server and its behavioral ad targeting schemes. But it has yet to respond. It's unclear whether behaviorial ad targeting occurs on services beyond YouTube and AdSense. And it's unclear what data - from what Google services - is fed into the Smart Ass system.

Clearly, Google's long-term goal is to serve ads that match the preferences and habits of individual users. This is why Google toys with the definition of "anonymization" when anonymizing your data history. It wants to know what you've done in the past so it can serve you ads accordingly.

This is the goal of Smart Ass - and it's significant step beyond the company's original ad serving system, which served ads only in response to search keywords or website text. The original system, says a former Google employee, is now known as Dumb Ass. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Sonos AXES support for Apple's iOS4 and 5
Want to use your iThing? You can't - it's too old
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Too many IT conferences to cover? MICROSOFT to the RESCUE!
Yet more word of cuts emerges from Redmond
Joe Average isn't worth $10 a year to Mark Zuckerberg
The Social Network deflates the PC resurgence with mobile-only usage prediction
Chips are down at Broadcom: Thousands of workers laid off
Cellphone baseband device biz shuttered
Feel free to BONK on the TUBE, says Transport for London
Plus: Almost NOBODY uses pay-by-bonk on buses - Visa
Amazon says Hachette should lower ebook prices, pay authors more
Oh yeah ... and a 30% cut for Amazon to seal the deal
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.