Microsoft Research and Microsoft adCenter recently announced the 20 winners in an Award called "Beyond Search – Semantic Computing and Internet Economics Awards". The award had rewards around a million US$. (not that bad).
OK, since adCenter played a role in here the bias on advertising on the web is understandable (and ok ;-). Several papers work in the field of improving digital online ads (more focus, better profiling of the user, such alike).
One work is related around privacy which really caught my attention. This aspect is mostly disregarded but will play an even more important role in the future.
One thing I learned from Google and others is that advertisement can be part of the service. Think on you searching for hotels in New York. If you get (along with the search results) advertisement of New Yorker hotels that's totally fine (OK, the fact that you also get ads from New Yorker the fashion store is a problem of the way this all works today and will be fixed any time soon...;-)
As long as you are sure that the search results are not biased in any way by somebody paying for it. This is what the search engine promises: The search result is neutral, advertisement is flagged as such and does not distract. This is the obvious contract...
To do the next step it is necessary to learn more about the individual user. It is not interesting to know your name but to know your behavior, to compare this with the millions of other profiles and to target offerings to those groups.
I did an interesting observation recently: I told a friend of mine how the search engines work and how they make their money and it hit her hard. No, that's not how she wants to be treated. My observation is (the same with StudiVZ here in Germany) is: Search engines and other online service providers doesn't make this explicit. It is not part of the obvious contract...
In my opinion the community is well aware that companies have to earn money. But users expect an obvious contract, not one in the small line called Privacy.
PS: Oh, by the way: HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!