Ever since the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal ripped back the curtain on how extensively and freely websites and applications collect and subsequently sell user’s personal data, the general public has been rightfully indignant and untrusting toward tech companies.
In an attempt to mollify their consumer base with more transparency, many firms began supplying increased documentation on their data capturing protocols in the following months.
Continuing this trend, last week Google rolled out an update to their “Ad Settings” feature – a page, first launched in 2009, where people who use Chrome while signed into their Google account can see how and why certain kinds of advertisements are shown to them.
According to a blog post by product manager Philippe de Lurand Pierre-Paul, the new Ad Settings will give users more information on and control over the ad tailoring process.
“The new Ad Settings shows all the different factors that determine how ads are tailored to you in one view. This way, it’s easier for you to see them at a glance, learn more about why you see ads related to these topics, and decide if there are any you want to remove,” he wrote.
His article includes an overview of how to navigate and manage this list of interest categories.
“Turning off a factor means you’ll no longer receive tailored ads related to it across our services, and on websites and apps that partner with us to show ads, as long as you’re signed in to your Google Account.”
The top of the page also has a simple switch for opting out of ad personalization entirely, though it warns you that toggling it off will not stop Google from showing ads, it will simply result in more ads that are irrelevant to your needs and lifestyle.
The “Why this ad?” feature has also been expanded to provide more details on why a particular ad has popped up on any of the services that show Google ads – including YouTube, Google Maps, and Gmail – and most of the websites and apps that use Google’s ad customization.
If you’re wondering how the extensive personalization factors are gathered in the first place, Google has been open about the fact that they collect pretty much every drop of your personal information.
On their user privacy page, the company explains that they track “Things you do” (websites visited, videos watched, links clicked, location and IP address), “Things you create” (contacts, emails, calendar events, shared and uploaded media content), and “Things that make you ‘you’” (a creepy way of phrasing your personal identification details).
However, in numerous public statements and on many account settings pages, the company reiterates that they will never sell this information to a third party – rather, they are able to keep their services free by collecting money from advertisers based on the number of clicks and views their targeted ads receive.
Google also allows you to download summaries of your collected data.
"We respect user consent and user privacy and we also give users control over what they want to do with their data," Google executive Arjun Narayan said a conference earlier this year. "All of that makes me believe we are in a better place.”