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McCormick Professor Discusses Online Privacy on Chicago Tonight

Kristian Hammond explains how Google's advertising practices impact users

Kristian Hammond, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and co-director of Northwestern University’s Intelligent Information Laboratory, recently appeared on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight to speak about online privacy and email security.

Kristian HammondHammond and host Phil Ponce discussed a new Microsoft advertising campaign that takes aim at Google’s practice of scanning Gmail users’ emails for keywords to tailor advertisements to them.

Google computers scan for prevalent keywords, regardless of their context, and match them with available ads, Hammond said

“The technical term is ‘bag of words.’ That is, it doesn’t read in the sense of looking at the sentence and figuring out what is going on. It just looks at the word, picks out the ones that look more important, and uses those to find ads,” Hammond said. He added that such an approach is imperfect, often placing ads that have little in common with the use of the keyword in the email.

Concerns over online privacy will likely dissipate as future generations become accustomed to online services and the data-gathering practices that accompany them, Hammond argued.

“I think we are going to see a generational shift where no one on this planet will care about privacy, because there are so many wonderful services that you can get by being known by systems,” he said. 

Watch the segment on Chicago Tonight.