Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to Opt out of Personalization on Google

I'm writing this blog post as a result of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a cousin who felt that some of the personalized ads that were following her on Google were downright creepy. Google calls this "Interest-based advertising." In truth, I've found it a little disconcerting too.  I once looked up a certain kind of shoe and then later, when I wasn't thinking about shoes, received an ad for a local shoe store. It felt a little weird, like someone saying to me, "Hey Esther, I know you wanted shoes yesterday so I found some for you today."

Anyway, I promised my cousin that I would figure out how she could "opt out" of interest-based ads, and then let her know. What I didn't realize was that it would be difficult to fulfill this promise. Thank you to my daughter for helping me locate the right pages to point to for this blog post.

The best way to get to this function is to search for "Google Ad Preferences" on Google. Click on the exact match to that phrase and you'll go to this page.  Here is a screenshot of the page:

As you can see, this page shows you what categories of interests Google has associated with you. It also allows you remove certain categories of ads to be delivered (or "served" as it is called in the industry). For example if one of the categories of ads Google has chosen for you is banking, and you don't want any banking ads, you can ask to be removed from getting them by clicking the "Remove" button.

You can also press the "Opt Out" button, and be removed from all personalized ads provided by Google. You have to realize that Google doesn't want you to press that button, but it is your right to do it. Google believes that by personalizing the ads to your demographic profile, it is "serving" you ads you'll like better than random ads. Here is the screen that you'll see when you've successfully opted out of these ads. Doubleclick is the name of the company Google bought that brings you this technology, and is now Google's personalized ad division.
On the page above, Google warns you that you have to "Opt Out" on each browser that you use. So if you use more than one browser likelike Internet Explorer, FireFox, or Safari or if you use more than one computer, you will have to "Opt Out" on each browser on each computer. Google tells you how to "Opt In" again. And Google explains that you may not be permanently "Opted Out." To permanently "Opt Out," you have to download some software from Google at this page:

In addition to taking action to restrict personalized ads from Google, you can head to the webpage for an organization that lets you opt out of personalized ads from a number of advertising networks and companies. The Network Advertising Initiative doesn't let you opt out of ALL internet advertising; it simply lets you opt out from seeing advertising that is tailored to your web preference and usage patterns.

Here is a screenshot of the Network Advertising Initiative page.  A tool on this page looks at the browser you are using and detects if you have a "cookie" from each of the initiative's members. It tells you, and you can choose to "Opt Out" individually, or by choosing "Select All," "Opt Out" of them all.

My cousin didn't mention it, but maybe she was annoyed by the personalized ads in her G-Mail account as well. I'm told that there is no way to completely opt out of personalized ads here, but to opt out of those that are formed by using the collective information in your emails, you need to take a different route. First locate the little star next to your name in the upper right hand corner of your G-Mail Account.

Now click on "Mail settings" and make sure you are on the "General" page. Scroll down the page until you get to this:

If you want to "Opt Out" of these personalized ads, simply click "Don't use these signals to show ads." Even after you do this, you may still get personalized email messages based on the email you are reading. Google thinks that the ads could be of interest to you and on the Learn More page, will try to convince you to allow it to use signals to predict the kinds of ads you'd like to see. The company says: " if you’ve recently received a lot of messages about photography or cameras, a deal from a local camera store might be interesting. On the other hand if you’ve reported these messages as spam, you probably don’t want to see that deal."

Of course, Google thinks that all rational people will take the time to report all spam. In fact, many of us just ignore it. When I get an email from a company I know is legitimate, but the offer isn't of interest to me at this time, I don't report it as spam. I might want to see other offers from that company.  Yet I'd be annoyed to see an ad in my email for something similar to the offer I'd ignored, simply because I didn't report it as spam.

Personalized or interest-based ads may be something you are happy about receiving. However, for those of us like my cousin, I hope this information gives you a way to make your web surfing and email experiences more pleasant.

1 comment:

Ann @CreativeBoomer said...

Wow! Could they possibly make it any harder? That must have taken quite a while and a lot of digging to find.