Here's How To Find Out What Google's Adverts Know About You

Google is making it easier to see just what conclusions its ads have come to about you, revamping Google Ad Settings to make it clearer to check – and adjust – the demographic data it uses to personalize the adverts you're shown. The move comes as tailored advertising becomes both more topical and more controversial, as internet users realize just how much information they're giving away about themselves.

The new Ad Settings, therefore, puts all of that demographic data where you can see it. It comes from a variety of sources, mind: some of the information, like the age bracket within which you fall, you'll have given Google while setting up an account with one of the company's services, such as Gmail. Other details, however, are based on estimates.

For example, if you visited a website for a certain automaker, Google might decide you're particularly interested in that car company. If you visit multiple automaker sites, meanwhile, Google could expand that assumption, figuring you're researching a new vehicle. More general topics, like an interest in soccer, could be intuited by broader browsing activities.

Google says that it uses these demographic assumptions both when it's deciding what adverts to show you, and what not to show you. For example, if it decides you might be researching a new car purchase, it could show you automaker deals or insurance information. However, if it knows you're in your fifties, it might not show you information on study abroad programs.

Now, you'll also be able to turn off certain factors too. It looks like Google will only allow that on its inferred information, not the core demographic data you've given it, such as age or location. "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 company explains. "The ads you see can still be based on general factors, like the subject of what you're looking at or the time of day, or any other factor that is still turned on."

The other big change is an expansion of "Why this ad?" That launched back in 2011, explaining why certain adverts were shown at certain times. It's being broadened, now, to offer the same insight on any service that shows Google ads, such as YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Search, and Google Play. It'll also be available on third-party sites and apps that use Google advertising services.