Companies are gearing up to make an absolute fortune in behavioral targeting by scraping Google search terms off of publisher referral data. (Some already are!)
The theory is simple: Search has credibility with advertisers as a very effective behavior with high conversion rates. The only people with active search behavior data today is Google. When someone searches for something and then clicks, their browsers HTTP_Referrer is set to the last page they visited, possibly something like: http://www.google.com/q=Searching+For+Cars (Where “Searching For Cars” was their query on Google). So if a behavioral data gatherer like Magnetic is sitting on a publisher with a lot of search driven traffic (most web sites), they can gather a lot of referrer data. Logging this allows for (As Magnetic’s web site describes it):
Magnetic™ is search re-targeting. The Magnetic data marketplace empowers advertisers and publishers to use search data as the key indicator of intent and re-target campaigns to the most relevant audience online. With more than 270 million search profiles, Magnetic significantly lifts the value of media and improves campaign performance.
What about other uses of that technology? Could Microsoft offer special discounts to people that had visited Apple.com recently? Is it OK to essentially steal that data from a user? Should you know what competitors a potential customer is talking to?
I posit that this whole area is about as far into a potentially unethical gray area as one could go. There is basically no difference between any of these examples and they all make me want to turn off referrer data in my browser.
What do you think? Are you OK with every website knowing every web site you visit and query you type into a search engine? That seems like where we are going.