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Home Sweet Google: What if the ads-everywhere model didn't suck?

Michael Simon | May 29, 2014
Imagine this episode of The Jetsons: George has to work late, so he calls Jane on his video phone to tell her he won't be home in time for dinner. She shows him a picture of new earrings she wants for her birthday, and when he hangs up, an ad for a jewelry store pops up. After Mr. Spacely lets him go, he taps a few times on his screen and hops in his flying car, where a trailer for a new movie begins to play, asking if he'd like directions to the space drive-in. Once he gets home (and stops that crazy thing), the lights are on, the temperature is just right and the Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle has already whipped up a perfect prime rib dinner.

Imagine this episode of The Jetsons: George has to work late, so he calls Jane on his video phone to tell her he won't be home in time for dinner. She shows him a picture of new earrings she wants for her birthday, and when he hangs up, an ad for a jewelry store pops up. After Mr. Spacely lets him go, he taps a few times on his screen and hops in his flying car, where a trailer for a new movie begins to play, asking if he'd like directions to the space drive-in. Once he gets home (and stops that crazy thing), the lights are on, the temperature is just right and the Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle has already whipped up a perfect prime rib dinner.

"Welcome home, Mr. Jetson!" Rosie says. "You look more tired than usual. Would you like me to order a case of Pick-Me-Up caffeine pills? They come in your favorite flavor now!"

You can practically see George's comically animated reaction. In 1962, we would have laughed at such targeted, intrusive advertising, as if companies were somehow able to eavesdrop on every aspect of our lives and know exactly what were thinking before the thought even appeared.

But the closer we get the less funny it seems. It's become generally accepted that the words we plug into search fields automatically become fodder for advertisers, and Google has turned its world-class algorithm into a billion-dollar ad machine. We barely even notice anymore; after researching a recent column on the rumored deal between Apple and Beats, I ignored a couple of days worth of banner and billboard ads for headphones before I even realized why they were there. No matter how trivial, every search we make is a commodity, and it's big business.

So, no one was surprised when a letter from Google to the Securities and Exchange Commission surfaced last week that inadvertently outlined its rather diabolical intentions for mobile ads:

"In a short period of time, the meaning of 'mobile' at Google has shifted dramatically to 'handset' from 'tablet + handset.' We expect the definition of 'mobile' to continue to evolve as more and more 'smart' devices gain traction in the market. For example, a few years from now, we and other companies could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses and watches, to name just a few possibilities."

The "thermostats" bit in particular raised eyebrows due to Google's recent purchase of Nest, and while both companies were quick to squash any supposition, the seed had already been planted: Any connected screen in our lives will eventually be a target for ads, and the vision of our homes becoming inundated with pop-ups is that much closer to reality.

 

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