Google Ads: Did You Know You Could Do This?

A couple weeks ago I was attending a panel discussion at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in DC (featuring our very own Mike “Gillette Mach 3” Shaver) when Betsy, from Google Economics, started talking about their behaviour-based advertising.

She was making a point about how Google gives users control over the kind of ads they see, and she mentioned this:

I think I always knew that the “Ads by Google” text at the bottom of ads was clickable – I’ve probably even clicked it. Historically though, it’s just been a sales pitch for would-be advertisers and content authors.  Now, when you click on it (go on, there’s one at the bottom of this post), there’s a link to your very own “Ad Preferences Manager.”

This page tells you what Google thinks you’re interested in based on the browsing habits it’s observed, and hence what kinds of ads it wants to show you (seriously, go check it out).  It also gives you the option to add/remove interests, or opt out entirely.

Betsy, from Google, was talking about how they had been trying to really get the word out to people about this interface, so that people could control their ad experience. I wasn’t sure whether that message was reaching people – even people who might care about the information advertisers collect.

A couple of questions, then:

  1. Did you know about this page?
  2. Do the contents there surprise you?  How accurate are they?
  3. How does it all make you feel? Are you more comfortable, knowing that you have some control? Or are you less comfortable, seeing the profile laid out like that?
  4. Did you make any changes while you were there?

12 comments

  1. 1. No!
    2. Yes! They seem reasonably accurate, though I wonder what “Industries – Transportation & Logistics” means, and/or how it’s related to “Travel” (which is also in my list). I’m not really that interested in Logistics unless it concerns myself (and possibly stuff I’m bringing somewhere). Oh well. Also, what does the statement “Google does not associate sensitive interest categories with your ads preferences.” mean? That is not clear to me. Does it mean that if they thought I was interested in pr0n, they wouldn’t list it here? Or that they would but don’t think I’m interested? Or that they might think I’m interested but wouldn’t tell me if they did? Or something else still?
    3. I like having some control, I guess. It’s quite cool that they even let me, and I wonder if I could use it to my advantage. I haven’t tried playing around with it, and my “ignore ads” mental facilities when scanning webpages tend to ignore the Google ads, so I have no idea how accurate my current servings are. Wonder if I could make it useful or not…
    4. Not really… they grouped “Language Study and Translation”, or I would have kicked out Translation. While I’m interested in languages, the Translation thing probably just advertises actual translation products, for which I have no need or want.

  2. 1. Not until you mentioned it!
    2. The contents of the page did not surprise me — apparently I went through the process of shutting that stuff off a while ago, so none of my ad prefs are being tracked (woo!)
    3. I like having control, particularly the ability to just turn it off.
    4. No changes needed.

  3. Didn’t know about this. Seems accurate. I have:

    Computers & Electronics
    Local – Regional Content – Western Europe – United Kingdom
    News & Current Events – Newspapers
    Science
    Sports

    Note that at the bottom of that page there’s a link to: http://www.google.com/ads/preferences/sr/nai/optout

    Which curiously says for Google: “No cookie”… and a lot of networks I haven’t heard of have “Active Cookie”.

  4. 1. I did not know.
    2. The contents did not suprise me, but made me feel a little shallow.
    3. I like the option to make the ads shown to me more meaningful, thus increasing the chance that one day, they may actually show me something useful (dare to dream!). Seeing the profile laid out may have been the intervention I needed in terms of my gossip consumption. 😉
    4. I made no changes.

  5. I used to work for Google, and I had no idea that thing was clickable. They are not doing a particularly good job at indicating that it is. 😉

  6. 1. No!
    2. Yes. It was wildly inaccurate. All they had me for was “Lifestyle”. I guess there aren’t enough google ads on mozilla.org and w3c.org pages 🙂
    3. Yeah, I like this. I especially like that they are upfront about the data they have on me (well, the aggregate at least. Better than nothing).
    4. Yup. Replaced “lifestyle” for “computers”, “science”, and “cars” 🙂

  7. 1. I’ve clicked through before to find the sales pitch – I didn’t know it had a preferences thing on it now (actually I’m not sure I would have noticed that little link had I not been looking for it now).

    2. There are no categories listed (probably because this browser doesn’t keep cookies past the end of a session)

    3. I am aware this stuff is happening anyway, and if I’m going to see adverts, I’d rather see relevant ones.

    4. No – no point on my computer at work because it won’t store the cookie anyway. I could try at home, but even there my Firefox only stores cookies from whitelisted sites, so it depends if the cookie is from a domain I have whitelisted.

  8. 1. No.

    2. First, mine:

    Arts & Humanities – Humanities – History
    Finance & Insurance – Accounting & Tax
    Finance & Insurance – Credit & Lending – Credit Cards
    Industries – Design
    Local – Regional Content – Western Europe – United Kingdom
    News & Current Events – News Networks
    News & Current Events – Politics – Elections & Campaigns
    Photo & Video – Photo & Video Sharing
    Society – Government & Regulatory Bodies
    Society – Social Science – Economics

    Some do, some don’t surprise me, basically inversely proportional to their accuracy. I’m not sure how I got the photo/video sharing one, maybe it’s from all the high culture #foxymonkies directs at me on a daily basis. The UK one I guess is maybe from my still following that Latest Headlines live bookmark that’s in the default bookmarks in Firefox, so it thinks I’m a BBC fan. The finance ones might be through a couple economics sites I visit, although the credit cards one is a bit of a joke as I have more credit cards than I need (and sadly I can’t get rid of the ones I don’t want, because FICO scores reflect the longevity of the oldest card; dumping the one I didn’t get a month ago wouldn’t help that). Design is a stumper: maybe from viewing blog entries of HCI people in the Mozilla and GNOME communities? I can’t explain that one.

    3. I can’t say I care one way or the other. My ad-blocking sense is highly tuned so that I barely see ads, and I make so few purchases outside of food (includes restaurants, but those are more a matter of opportunity and geography than of advertising) that advertisers will find it nearly impossible to grab even a sliver of my discretionary spending.

    4. Did you make any changes while you were there?

    Sure, why not since I know about it and am looking at it — removed photo/video sharing and the credit cards options. I’ll let it keep incrementally discovering new categories and not add new ones; I have better things to do than select categories I won’t actually buy from anyway.

    Incidentally, I couldn’t figure out how to follow your suggestions until I realized I’d blocked images from that server ages ago — had to go into Page Info to unblock, then reload the page to view. 🙂

  9. Interesting. They tell me I have disabled Cookie though I clearly have enabled them both for the site the ad was on and http://www.google.com. Possibly not for their ad servers, though, but that’s not very transparent in our and their UI 😉

  10. Jesper Kristensen

    I would not have found that page if you did not tell me it was there.

    But the only thing the page tells me is that I have to opt in to being tracked by a cookie before I can use the page.

  11. 1. No. Even after you mentioned it, I didn’t realize that there is anything other than the usual sales pitch on that page – only found the link to the ads preferences on third attempt.
    2. “No interest categories are associated with your ads preferences so far” – makes sense, I don’t allow persistent cookies to be stored in my browser, with very few exceptions.
    3. I guess I am already in control.
    4. No, the cookie wouldn’t survive too long anyway.

  12. 1. No.
    2. They don’t surprise me, but they aren’t accurate either, thanks to standard + custom adblock filters.
    3. Maybe it sounds selfish & naive, but I run ABP so that I can avoid having to interact with them at all. I don’t want them to see me whatsoever.
    4. Making a change would be a proactive move that gives more information than I’m comfortable with, so no.

    I realize it’s foolish to think I can avoid leaving any sort of mark, but I’d like to leave as small a footprint as possible, and that means not even running show_ads.js.