Google isn’t exactly popular for its privacy practices, despite official protestations that it is, in fact, pro-privacy. So when the company initiates changes to its ad tracking that includes more of your Internet life, that’s not exactly out of the ordinary. What is extraordinary, however, is that Google has made the changes opt-in, which means it is disabled by default and needs an informed and conscientious decision by the user to join in. And even when they do, they’re being given fine-grained control on which things they will allow Google to track.
Most of the time, when Google changes settings related to ads and privacy, it enables them by default, forcing users to opt-out manually, which, most of the time, is what most users want. This has been regularly criticized by privacy advocates as server Google’s interests instead of its users, which Google, of course, denies. So this new opt-in scheme is admittedly out of character, but definitely welcome. It does come at the price of Google now wanting even more of your data for its ads.
The new Ads Personalization gather topics and data from all your activities on Google’s various sites and services, including Search and YouTube but excluding Gmail. This is something you’ll have to opt-in if you want to see personalized ads. That said, it really only works when you’re signed into your Google Account, whether you’re inside Google’s sites or on other websites that partner with Google for ads. Turning them off just means you won’t get ads based on your preferred settings and topics. Of course, you’ll still get ads, some of which are still customized to your context, like location. There really is no escaping ads, aside from using an ad blocker, of course.
If you do opt-in, Google will be offering switches and options to fine tune the things that it does track and suggest. Google is also providing a new My Activity page that lets users see what it does track across sites and delete them as they please. It is definitely one of the most powerful tools released by Google to give users more control of the ads that Google serves them. Provided they want to be served those at all.
It is definitely a welcome change in attitude that will hopefully continue in future changes. It could, however, also be simply an experiment. Google’s business is, of course, centered around ads, and having users opt-in instead of opt-out could adversely affect that in the long run.