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Is Google Stealing Your Retargeting Data?

They are using audience data from YOUR pixels to help your Competitors!



9:10 pm on Jul 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

We have overwhelming evidence that suggests Google is utilizing the clickstream data collected from our client's Adwords retargeting pixels (i.e. "Audience) to serve competing ads on the Adsense network.

Take into consideration the following scenario...

1) Our client sells widgets. We have Google's retargeting code on our client's website along with a retargeting campaign setup in Adwords to build OUR target audience.

2) Our retargeting campaign is currently paused.

3) From a clean browser session, I visit our client website looking for brown widgets. The Google Adwords retargeting pixel fires, and I am added to MY CLIENT'S target "audience".

4) Immediately after visiting our client website, I visit an "Adsense" website that is totally 100% NOT relevant to brown widgets. On this website, I miraculously see numerous text ads and banner ads for brown widgets from all of our client's competitors.

We've tested this scenario with several client websites, and in each instance Google serves ads based on data that was clearly gathered from our client's pixel that was placed for the sole intention of our Adwords campaign and nobody else's.

When attending SES in Toronto, I had the opportunity to speak with a Google representative from their retargeting division. I specifically asked about this concern, and she vehemently denied they use our pixel data for any other purpose than to serve our own ads.

What do you think? Is this happening to you? Is there anything in Google's fine print that allows them to do this?


6:20 pm on Jul 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

you're assuming your client's retargeting list is the source of their competitors targeting...

if you visit your clients site, your visit there may trigger G to note your "interest" in that type of site/product/service...

perhaps your competitors are using "interest" based targeting to display their banners.

G will show you (or any consumer) what has been identified as your interests. visit your client's site, then go check what G says your tagged interests are:


6:59 pm on Jul 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

Rhinofish - we've tested scenarios of before and after installation of the retargeting pixel. Without the pixel - no competitor ads on the non-relevant adsense sites. With the pixel - all of a sudden tons of competitor ads (highly targeted mind you) on non-relevant adsense sites.

With the testing we've done, it is abundantly clear that Google is using our Adwords audience data for serving both our retargeting campaigns AND our competitors ads.

My question is this - where EXACTLY is it in the fine print that allows Google to do this? I'm not asking hypothetically, I want a real justification as to why they are sharing our Adwords Campaign data against our will.

Also, did anyone else ever test this to see for themselves?


4:27 pm on Jul 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

can't wait to see how this turns out!


4:53 pm on Jul 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

Chewy - we've already tested. Google is using our data without our knowledge. It couldn't be more obvious.

I can't wait to hear from others confirming the same.

handsome rob

4:50 pm on Jul 28, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Predicting this goes nowhere.


6:06 am on Oct 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

One thing I don't understand is how Google would know who your comptetitors are.

Unless you also bid on keywords and the competition has also bid on those keywords


2:15 pm on Oct 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

There's a boatload of SEO tools that know who your competitors are; you best believe Google has an even better idea.


5:10 pm on Jan 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Just a quick follow-up...Google definitely appears to be using your retargeting list data for their own purposes. If it's true, this really is a no-no.

To further exemplify my reasoning for questions this, just take a look at the update they made to the "audience" feature. If you create an "audience" in Adwords, there is now the ability to create a remarketing list based on a global "Interest Category" (not sure when this feature was added). And how do they determine which sites belong in each Interest Category, you ask? Are they using YOUR retargeting data as part of building their "interest category" audiences? And if so, wouldn't this now give competitors with higher budgets the opportunity to capitalize on your audience in the event you have a lower budget?

Well, Google definitely does have their own algorithms to determine which sites best belong in these "interest groups" so it really is hard to prove they are stealing your retargeting data as part of the interest categories. However, from our previous experiences as outline in the original post, it seems extremely likely they are.

But I could be wrong. Afterall, Google does no evil because they say they don't. Right?

handsome rob

5:53 pm on Jan 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

There are a lot of ad networks out there that allow you to target by interest category. I just did a branding campaign with a name-brand ad agency last year and they had Interest Categories too. And they don't make a 10th of what Adwords brings in for Google. Plus they've also got that contextual algorithm for the content network. Pair that up with a Mechanical Turk team and you've got interest categories.

Now, all that being said, I'm not saying I disagree with you. I've seen them do some pretty indefensible stuff. Not on the level of Yahoo/MicroHoo, but much farther reaching.

My point with my above post, though, is that this is the same company that is about to launch a massive ad campaign to convince the public that they give a **** about protecting your privacy online... what a laugh. Topics get started, Aaron Wall makes infographics, occasionally lawsuits get filed. Advertisers complain to their reps, the odd story about Google makes it to the news media, but what changes?

Nothing. Might makes right and every day we're seeing these internet giants that we helped grow using THEIR might to take advantage of both their users and their advertisers.

Welcome to 2012. No accountability, no customer service, no sense of ethics. And I'm not just talking about Google.


6:13 pm on Jan 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Handsome Rob - I agree with you 100% on everything you said. I feel the same exact way, and that's why I'm so disturbed about what we were able to see in this small example here.

Interest categories are nothing new as you say, but Google's use of them is very suspect. We methodically tested our hunches that Google was using our retargeting data well before the interest groups even existed within the audience feature. Everything we tried (on multiple clients) pointed towards the fact that Google was "using" our retargeting data. It appeared blatant actually.

handsome rob

6:30 pm on Jan 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I might recommend, then, taking your case to someone like Aaron Wall or another high-profile search blogger who will at least get the word out. I'm sure Danny Sullivan's deep in bed with them but there are a lot of bloggers hating the heck out of Google these days. You can tell by the post dates how active WebmasterWorld is these days :/


6:25 pm on Mar 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

bump. dan76 has a valid point here.

No wonder Google had employees bug us about creating "retargeting" campaigns. Sounds like just another way for them to collect more data to target ads, and unless you are so big you can take a large sizable chunk of your niche (which I assume most people here AREN'T), they are just using your site to sell more ads to your biggest competitors in the future.

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