Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or


Google has just bought a lot of browsing history of the internet

I pointed out that YouTube was a particularly valuable acquisition to Google because their videos are the most embedded in other pages of any of the online video services. When you embed your own content in someone else’s web page, you get the ability to track who visits that page and when, to the extent that you can identify them. This is how Google Analytics works – there’s a small piece of javascript loaded into the page which is served from one of Google’s servers, and then everytime someone hits that page, they get the IP address, the URL of the referring page, and whatever cookies are stored with the browser for the domain. As I’ve discussed before, this is often more than enough information to uniquely identify a person with pretty high accuracy.

DoubleClick has been doing this for a lot longer than Google has, and they have a lot of history there. In addition to their ad network, Google has also just acquired that entire browsing history, profiles of the browsing of a huge chunk of the web. Google’s privacy policy does not seem to apply to information acquired from sources other than, so they’re probably free to do whatever they want with this profile data.

[Update: In perusing their privacy policy, I noted this: If Google becomes involved in a merger, acquisition, or any form of sale of some or all of its assets, we will provide notice before personal information is transferred and becomes subject to a different privacy policy. This doesn't specify which end of the merger they're on, so maybe this does cover personal information they acquire. I wonder if they're planning on informing everyone included in the DoubleClick database.]

Tags: , , ,

7 Responses to “Google has just bought a lot of browsing history of the internet”

  1. Rob Says:


    I would be very interested to understand how data older than about 1 year (feel free to use 2 if that makes it easier) is of interest to Google.

  2. Steve Says:

    Besides the fact that information 12 months and older is well…mostly worthless…I strongly believe that google is not out to get you, or anyone else. And, IP adddress is NOT enough to uniquely identify a person. And in most cases can’t be used to identify a specific computer.

  3. timhj Says:

    You’re an idiot. Good luck with life.

  4. adam Says:

    I have no actual information about what Google is doing with this data. But two things are facts – 1) DoubleClick does have an incredibly large browsing log history covering a lot of internet real estate that Google’s does not and 2) Google paid more than anyone expected that DoubleClick was worth. The M&A people are not stupid, and they obviously saw some value in there that others have missed.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s all really just about keeping DoubleClick out of the hands of a competitor. Personally, if I worked at Google, I’m sure if I put my mind to it I could find all sorts of useful things to do with that data combined with Google’s computing cluster. It’s pretty clear that they’re building a predictive model of internet traffic. That’s what adaptive ads are all about – figuring out what people are going to click on before you show it to them. It seems like the more data you have the better that model is going to be, whether it’s old or not.

    But the reality is that I don’t know what they might be doing with it. I’ve just gotten in the habit of pointing out the non-obvious side effects of their public actions, of which there are many.

  5. adam Says:

    It’s certainly not an unbiased source, but Microsoft’s general counsel is quoted in this NYT article about Microsoft’s opinion that the DoubleClick deal shouldn’t go ahead because of antitrust violations. As funny as that may be, it’s interesting that in addition to the usual “stifling competition” argument, he also mentions the personal information collection problem:

    “Microsoft contends that the $3.1 billion deal, announced on Friday, would hurt competition in the fast-growing market for advertising on the Web and raises questions about how much personal information would be collected by Google, already a dominant player in online advertising.”

    Microsoft, in arguably the best position of any company to spy on billions of people if they wanted to, is publicly worried about Google’s potential to “observe and capture consumer information on an unprecedented scale.” Does that make you feel better?

  6. Rob Says:


    Please keep in mind the title of your post was “Google has just bought a lot of browsing history of the internet”, not “Google has just bought access to a lot of user activity on the internet”.

    I don’t think anyone would argue that DoubleClick gives them access to more data, however, the ‘dirty little secret’ is that the technology to ‘track’ users (look out, they’re behind you!) is so trivial to develop that Google has had DoubleClick’s ‘tracking’ technology and then some for several years at least. Google bought them to keep MS or Yahoo from getting them, and, in a distant second, to learn what DoubleClick knows about display ads.

  7. adam Says:

    Please elaborate on what you see as the difference between those two statements. I’m not sure I see the distinction.

    Sure, the “tracking technology” is really simple – you drop a cookie with a unique identifier, and you log every piece of information you’re given access to. It’s not rocket science. It can be, however, reasonably invasive. Remember that the primary reason we have privacy policies in the first place is because of the lawsuit against DoubleClick.

    The technology is easy, but it doesn’t allow time travel. As I pointed out, DoubleClick has been doing this for a long time, and buying them was the only way for Google to get access to that data. This is a possible explanation for why they were willing to pony up $3.1 billion in cash, not stock, for technology that they could have undoubtedly built for significantly cheaper. Historical profiling data is also, as far as I can tell, the only asset that DoubleClick has which has value to Google (which is in that business) but which does not have value to Microsoft (which is not in that business) – and that’s a possible reason why Microsoft didn’t match Google’s offer.

Powered by WordPress