Google provides more transparency on ads [Updated]

UPDATE: Google has made a second, significant step forward in giving consumers access to the data that Google is collecting in order to personalize experiences and provide advertisers the best possible targeting information. This move seems to at least partially, be in response to EU and US governments looking more closely at platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter.

personal search data

First, and most importantly, Google has announced its intention to move the access point to user information to a more prominent place in search and those who have not yet received this treatment, will in the coming months - maps and other apps in the remaining months of 2018. 

Previously, you had to go into your Google account as described in the original blog post (below) about Google's privacy settings from June. Google says that Android will get this treatment in early 2019.

Additionally, Google is bringing explainer videos to users to help them navigate and understand the entire situation, it's complicated for lay persons to understand and hopefully the videos will simplify things for users. Data collection is an issue that has come to the masses in the past 18 months and all indications are that it will continue to be a topic for the foreseeable future, not just for digital marketers but, for the general public.


After very high profile reporting on ad targeting during the 2016 US Presidential Election, the pearl clutching over the GDPR and user data privacy more broadly being in the news, Google has rolled out a new system to see what data it has on consumers.

Ad Settings isn't new, its friendly for the average user

Consumers have been able to check up on what Google thinks about them since 2009 through Ad Settings, which gave consumers a single place for advertising controls. In 2011 and 2012 Google launched Why this ad? and Mute this ad, giving you more transparency and control over the ads that you see. In 2015 all three of these things got collapsed into My Account, with its questionable user experience.

Now we get the one-stop-shop destination for managing your personal information, privacy and security settings, under the name Ad Settings.

Ad Personalization

Google is also expanding the "why this ad" program to all its ads across all owned and distribution platforms. This started appearing on display ads back in 2011 and as far as I can tell, this should be live, everywhere as of now.

Come with me for a brief tour of what I discovered this morning, as I checked out the new transparency that Google launched on June 14th, 2018.

I dug into the settings to find that Google had 97 items that it was personalizing ads shown to me on, including gender and age range. Plus 13 more data points that had at some point, been set to off...more on this in a moment.

Age: 45-54 years old

Gender: Male

These settings could not be removed, only updated to other information. I am in fact, male and I am, in fact 45 (newly). I guess its not terribly surprising that Google knows this as you're asked these things when you create a Gmail account or any number of other things that require registration.

You can, also turn personalization off, completely, although I suspect that is a little bit like turning off the traction control in certain brands of cars - there is no such thing as "completely off." but, I can't prove that and Google, almost certainly, isn't going to tell us.

Here are some of the 97 topics that I'm able to have ads targeted to me on, via Google Search / Adwords, Gmail ads, Display ads, Google Maps Ads, Google Play Store or re-targeting.

These all make fairly decent sense to me as topics I've searched for or topical categories of sites that I've visited over time. For example, my Girlfriend recently was shopping for a car [ as a male and motorsport enthusiast, I was predisposed to, um, 'helping' ] so it makes perfectly good sense that I'm seeing:

  • Ford
  • Vehicle shopping 
  • Vehicle repair and maintenance 
  • Trucks & SUV's
  • Vehicle wheels & tires
  • Custom & performance vehicles
  • Brand: Midwest Tire & Wheel

I can specifically remember places on the web that I visited, many via Google search queries, that fit into those categories.

There are some targeting categories that make zero sense to me, like Reality TV. I hate reality TV shows with the passion of 1000 suns and do not watch them. Convenience stores also is a little baffling, although it could be related to a client, when I was Director of Digital Media at Resource/Ammirati.

Blenders & Juicers

Earlier this year I decided that I was sick of seeing the enormous blender that I almost never used, taking up space in my kitchen cabinets... I did some research on what alternatives might exist that doubled as food processors and whatnot, while also saving this city dweller some precious storage space. I solved this problem so I think I'll turn off my interest category about blenders and juicers.

I really don't want to see ads around the web for all the car related stuff, as I don't own one and have no plans to, anytime soon. So, what happens when you want to "turn off" the targeting for a particular thing?

Turn off the Hertz

Its unclear in some cases what will happen. Some say, "at least 90 days," and others say that you've successfully turned them off. I can't find any real clarification from Google on this topic, either in blog posts targeted towards the public or in the advertiser help sections of the various blogs.

What does this mean to Advertisers? My professional opinion, from talking to lay people (I'm so much fun at parties) about these sorts of things, is not much will change. A small percentage of users will become aware of this and an even smaller percentage will do anything with it. Expect to continue to hear consumers complaining about being re-targeted for things that they just purchased and gripes about "creepy" ads that are highly relevant but, technically mis-understood.

This guest post is by our extended team member Brad Bauer who handles digital marketing consulting




Filed under Digital Marketing
Tagged Google, Privacy

About the Author

Brad Bauer

Brad Bauer


Digital Marketer