Google auctions you offBy now you're probably accustomed to seeing ads appear in Google when you use it to search. You probably aren't even surprised when those ads relate to others searches you've done or pages you've visited. You may well, however, be interested in what takes place in that blink of any eye between when you enter a search for, say "Kate Snow," and the time a list of potential info sources is returned to you.

In the Internet age, according to the New York Times these milliseconds are enough time to hold an auction for your eyeballs, called real-time bidding." This means that in this eye blink
  1. Your search term and your Internet history are put up for bid
  2. Companies looking to reach shoppers like you competitively bid for the right to pitch their message on your search response
  3. A winner is selected and the proper ad is served up and placed on the response

Of course, this is all done by computers following algorithms, but that programming was designed by marketers.

To see how this works, I typed in the search term "new car," and received a slew of sponsored links, most of them from Maryland dealers as part of my response (meaning that I've been misidentified as a Maryland resident). Type the word "condominium" in Google search and check out the sponsored links to see where it thinks you live.

This is just another step in the individualization of advertising, a trend that will only grow more ubiquitous as companies learn how to identify and track you. You'll probably soon see different ads on your television than those your neighbor sees. The ads in your print issue of Newsweek could be different than those received by others. Even digital billboards could be programmed to recognize your car and serve up ads to your taste.

Imagine a day when a billboard knows that you haven't stopped for food on your interstate trip for hours, and serves up an ad for the Cracker Barrel at the next exit. Creepy or compelling? Our future will bring us both, I fear.

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