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What does Google think it knows about you?

20/03/2014 | Matthew Robins

Ever wondered how Google decides what ads to show you when you're cruising the interwebs? One of the things it does is to draw on its records of your web browsing history. 

Thankfully, the data it holds on you is available for you to view and edit.

To see yours, log into your Google account and click on this link

What you'll then see will look like this:

MR google ad profile

The left hand column shows you Google's profile for ads that you will see when using Google's own websites, including YouTube and Gmail. 

The right hand column shows you Google's profile for ads placed by Google that you will see when using other websites. 

The first thing to look at is Google's records for your age. The age shown in the left-hand column is drawn from the date of birth you've given Google when setting up your Google acount, so it should be as you'd expect it to be.

In my example, the age in the right-hand column is derived from websites Google knows I've visited. I guess I should be pleased that Google regards my interests as more youthful than my actual age! I could edit it, but I am happy to trust Google's judgment. It will show me ads that relate to the subject matter of the websites I've visited, and that make sense to me, even if the subjects reflect a younger demographic in Google's analysis. 

The really interesting bit is... "Interests". This is where Google records what it believes your interests are, based on previous search history and websites that it knows you've visited.

My list based on sites I've visited looks like this, and it's extremely accurate. This is mostly because Google is very good at profiling us, and partly because I've edited my list to remove a couple of subjects that are not particularly relevant to me. 

MR interests 2

If you find that your own list isn't correct, you can edit it too. Just click on "Edit" and you'll be able to delete individual lines in the list by clicking the "X" that appears on the right hand side.

This can be very useful if you've gone off piste temporarily, away from your normal browsing habits. So, if you've been searching for a mohair cardigan as a gift for your grandmother, or researching ailments of newts on your computer with a concerned newt-owning friend, you can do something to avoid being plagued with ads for knitwear for seniors or amphibian healthcare products.

Or you can add items by typing into the text box that appears at the top of the list, and Google will suggest relevant topics to pick from.

The nuclear option? You can opt out of being profiled altogether with the links at the bottom of each column. You'll still see Google's ads in Google websites and others all over the web, but they won't be targeted at you based on your profile. 

Me? I prefer to see relevant stuff. I think it's worth being profiled to make web browsing a more relevant experience.

What do you think?