Google Reveals how Targeted Advertising Works

by Matt Klassen on November 3, 2011

If you’ve ever wondered why particular advertisements appear on your screen Google is about to let you in on its secret, it records your online behaviour. Truly this news should not come as a surprise to anyone, for as long as there have been search engines and online advertising, the former has used your information, your queries, and your search habits to fuel the latter.

In a move that clearly scores one for corporate transparency—but still honestly does little to quell the privacy debate—Google has unveiled its latest tool, “Why These Ads?” a feature designed to give users exactly what its name says, an explanation as to why they see particular advertisements embedded in their Google searches or Gmail communications. Further, Google has unveiled its Ads Preference Manager, a tool designed to allow users to control what advertisements they see.

Again, while this is a victory for those looking for more corporate transparency, all Google’s new “Why These Ads?” campaign really does is demonstrate the various—and sometimes creepy—ways companies like Google collect and use your information for targeted advertising.

I glanced over my wife’s shoulder this morning as she went through her daily routine of checking her email and I was amused to see a large banner ad for Christian Senior Singles appear at the top of her screen, being that she is, to my knowledge, none of those things. It got me wondering though, what would motivate Google or the advertiser to include my wife in their target demographic, and interestingly enough Google’s “Why These Ads” tool has answered my question.

In its explanation behind the creation of “Why These Ads?” Google noted that its increasingly personalized and targeted advertising services blend together information from a variety of sources that helps Google and advertisers paint a profile of who you are and what you might like. For instance, you may be seeing ads that have been targeted to you based on your recent Google searches, your geographic location, or particular content of your emails, to name but a few indicators.

Google also explained the reasoning behind its upcoming Ads Preference Manager tool, designed to allow users to make designate preferences and make changes that ultimately affect what sorts of advertising they will see. In fact, the Manager tool will give users the ability to block undesirable ad content and restrict ads from particular advertisers, as well as give user the option to turn off the personalization feature altogether…of course if you do that Google will rain down a storm of untargeted ads on your head, but that’s just a minor catch.

So how can we now explain those ads that at time seem so off base, yet at others seem to be speaking directly to us? Quite simply, Google’s process for accumulating information on us strikes me as imprecise, in that it draws marketing info from places—like emails for instance—that may include conversations that don’t necessarily reflect our own interests or values.

That said, if Google was looking to demonstrate its commitment to user privacy its “Why These Ads?” campaign and its new Ads Preference Manager do little for this cause, as all the search engine giant has shown us is how it uses our private information, with no real commitment to actually preserving our privacy.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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