I'm always amazed by the economic niches that grow up around the periphery of big companies and industries. It's a great demonstration of the Darwinian roots of capitalism. So I was delighted to discover (in a purely academic sense, of course) via GoogleWatch that a little industry has grown up around the business of managing (and deleting, if you want to) your Google cookies.
The reasons that Google (and Microsoft, and Yahoo!) set persistent cookies are broadly two-fold:
- To make it easier for you to log in the next time you come back to the site
- To recognize you the next time you come back, even if you don't log in
Of these, no. 2 is the most important for the search engine; if you can start building up a profile of people's search (and other) behavior, and tie this to some registration information that they may have provided, you gain the ability to offer much more targeted advertising to that person.
So, for example, perhaps I spend a day online searching for all things Chrysler-related - Chrysler dealerships, Chrysler reviews, etc. Then, a month later, I come back and search for "Auto repair shop Seattle". It might be useful if the first paid results shown were for auto shops which specialized in Chrysler cars, wouldn't it? The auto shop in question would probably pay a little more to get to the top of the results in this situation - and anything that drives up the price of ads is good - good for Google, good for us, good for Yahoo!.
Of course, this sort of second-guessing of people's preferences makes people nervous - what else is Google keeping about me? Hence the deleting-your-Google-cookies industry, and things like the recent FTC complaint against Microsoft (seems a little harsh to single us out, but I guess that's what you get for being a huge and not-particularly-loved target). But people need to remember that it's advertising revenues that fund the cool stuff they get for free; including Gatineau.
So there's a balance to be struck, and a lot of education still to do. And we need to be at the forefront of that education process, or this time next year I'll be blogging about the deleting-your-Microsoft-cookies industry.