Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Google Ads Preferences

While I'm still on my privacy kick, I'll include this follow up from a class discuss yesterday. We talked a bit about Google and the implications of a commercial search engine with the intention of becoming essentially an online, computerized reference librarian, and since I hadn't really considered the commercial aspects of Google when evaluating the site as a search resource, I figured I would look into it a little more. In addition to the search-related ads you receive at the top and sides of a search results page, Google's "Display Network" incorporates personalized advertisements (which, like the search-related ads, are pulled from AdWords) into websites partnered with Google all across the internet. (A side feature of AdWords that I came across is the "Google Ad Auction" process, where companies actually bid on popular search terms with the highest bidder winning the "first place" spot in the results list when users search the corresponding keyword.)

The interesting part (I think) is how Google comes up with these personalized advertisements. By going to on your laptop or home computer, you can see a list of categories that Google has associated with you based on what websites you have visited recently. There is also a customization feature so that you can add or remove categories to better tailor the ads you receive to your interests. In an example on the Ads Preferences website, Google claims that, "throughout this process, Google does not know "Mary"'s name or any other personal information about her. Google simply recognizes the number stored in "Mary"'s browser, and shows ads related to the interest and inferred demographic categories associated with her cookie." But when you think about all the websites that people visit (social networking sites, personal blogs, bank and credit card websites, etc), it seems unrealistic that Google doesn't know your name or couldn't infer many other aspects of your identity as it "build[s] up a picture of your online habits." (Blakeman, 47).

There is the option to "Opt out" on your Ads Preferences page, meaning the ads you see will not be based on interests deduced from web activity and Google will (supposedly) stop collecting information about you.

I am certainly not anti-Google, indeed I use it on a daily, if not hourly, basis. However, I do think it's concerning for Google to market itself as a sort of digital reference librarian given the strong presence of its financial motivations throughout the Google universe. Google is unquestionably a remarkable resource, but when do we reach the point of putting too much trust in the system?

If you're interested, you can read Google's explanation of the Ads Preferences process and FAQ section at: or Karen Blakeman's interesting short article "What Search Engines Know About You."

Blakeman, K. (2010) What Search Engines Know About You. Online (Weston, Conn.) V. 34 No. 5 (September/October): 46-48.

No comments:

Post a Comment