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Is data Google's new advertising trump card?

The company is reportedly planning to launch an exchange that would allow Web publishers to sell data on their users in addition to ad space on their site.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

Google is working on launching a new data exchange, AdAge is reporting.

Data exchanges are not new. The services allow Web site owners to sell data on their users to potential advertisers. So, rather than buying a single banner ad at the top of the page for all to see, data exchanges allow advertisers to target specific portions of the site's audience, such as stay-at-home parents living in Montana or people shopping for a new smartphone.

Citing "executives" with knowledge of Google's plans, AdAge says that the search giant is calling its data exchange "DDP" in-house. According to AdAge, Google's plans revolve around Web publishers currently using DoubleClick. Those folks "would be able to sell data on their audiences in the exchange as easily as they might sell ad space," AdAge is reporting.

Speaking to AdAge in an interview published today, Google's display advertising vice president, Neal Mohan, said that data, in addition to traditional advertising inventory, should play a role in the company's future.

"If our vision is a comprehensive one, it needs to contemplate data in addition to ad inventory," Mohan told AdAge. "We are working on initiatives to help publishers and advertisers do just that."

There are currently a few companies operating data exchanges right now. One of the more prominent companies in that space, BlueKai, claims to allow advertisers to target 300 million users around the globe through its service. BlueKai collects data from Web publishers on topics ranging from NFL tickets to cable TV accessories. According to the company, Nielsen is one of several firms that offers its data through the service.

On its site, BlueKai is quick to point out that the data it collects is entirely "anonymous"--a feature that must play a role in Google's own data exchange, considering the scrutiny it has faced over privacy and online advertising.

Google was targeted by privacy watchdogs in 2007 after the company announced its plans to acquire DoubleClick for $3.1 billion. Jeff Chester, founder and executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said at the time that he believed the deal "leaves too much personal information about all of us in one company's hands--Google's."

In 2009, Google discussed privacy issues related to behavioral advertising before subcommittees of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce. At the time, concerns were being raised over companies like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook being able to deliver ads to users based on their behavior on a Web site.

Concerns over Google's advertising hit a tipping point last month when the Federal Trade Commission notified Google that it had launched an antitrust probe into the search giant's business. According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the news, the regulators are especially concerned with Google's dominance in search advertising.

In 2010, Google owned 73.6 percent of the search advertising market, according to data from eMarketer.

In his interview with AdAge, Mohan didn't confirm that Google was, in fact, working on a data exchange, but he did acknowledge that his company is "working on a couple of things."

Google did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment on its advertising plans.