Google AdWords as a Network of Grey Surveillance

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Virginia Tech

Google's AdWords processes information about what sorts of content users are browsing for about a quarter of all web site visits. The significance of AdWords' use of this vast amount of personal data lies not in its use for such obviously authoritarian purposes but instead as a network of grey surveillance with Google acting as the hub and the various publishers, advertisers, and users watching (and controlling) each other in distinct ways. Google's model of collective intelligence in its search and ad ranking systems has so deeply intertwined itself into user experiences online (and offline) that it acts as a shared nervous system. AdWords' use of specific words to target simple ads directly connects advertising topics with the content supported by the advertising, encouraging the content to do more of the work of assigning social meaning traditionally done by the ads themselves. And the AdWords pay-per-click ad auction system greatly increases the level of mechanization within the advertising and content production system, replacing the historical human bureaucracy of the advertising industry with the mechanical bureaucracy that is much more difficult to predict or understand. That mechanical bureaucracy shapes, in constitutive but unpredictable ways, the relationship between content and ads that drives the what content is published online and how advertisers and users interact with that content.

media, advertising, google, adwords, surveillance, privacy