Google AdWords and Social Commentary

So I got a letter (real, honest-to-God snail mail letter, the kind that’s printed on sliced dead trees) from Google a couple weeks back. Google, the darling of the dot-com world, sending me physical mail rather than email…but I digress.

The letter invited me to join the Google AdWords program, a system where you put ads on a Web site served by Google’s AdSense system. The idea behind AdWords and AdSense is that they deliver “targeted,” relevant advertising to Web sites, because the ad that’s delivered is based on keywords found in a site. So, for example, go to a Web site about home improvement, and the system sees words like “lumber” and “carpentry” and serves up ads for Lowes and Home Depot.

Funny thing, that. The Google AdSense system also serves up some entirely unwitting social commentary.

You see, advertisers buy keywords based on what they think people associate with those words. So, put Google ads on a page about polyamory, and it sees words like “jealousy” and “polyamory” and serves up ads for divorce lawyers, PIs, and books on how to tell if your husband is cheating. Put Google ads on a page mentioning the word “magazine,” and you’ll see ads for Harlequin romance novels.

I’m not going to make a dime on these ads. I’m leaving them there, though. Social commentary is fun.