Feeds

Google behavioral ad targeter is a Smart Ass

Distributed ad crunching

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

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. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
6 Obvious Reasons Why Facebook Will Ban This Article (Thank God)
Clampdown on clickbait ... and El Reg is OK with this
No, thank you. I will not code for the Caliphate
Some assignments, even the Bongster decline must
Kaspersky backpedals on 'done nothing wrong, nothing to fear' blather
Founder (and internet passport fan) now says privacy is precious
TROLL SLAYER Google grabs $1.3 MEEELLION in patent counter-suit
Chocolate Factory hits back at firm for suing customers
Mozilla's 'Tiles' ads debut in new Firefox nightlies
You can try turning them off and on again
Facebook, Google and Instagram 'worse than drugs' says Miley Cyrus
Italian boffins agree with popette's theory that haters are the real wrecking balls
Sit tight, fanbois. Apple's '$400' wearable release slips into early 2015
Sources: time to put in plenty of clock-watching for' iWatch
Facebook to let stalkers unearth buried posts with mobe search
Prepare to HAUNT your pal's back catalogue
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
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.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.