Ad personalization from Google -- giving power to the people, or a privacy nightmare?


Online ads aren’t going away anytime soon, and that'll keep the likes of Adblock Plus in business for the foreseeable future. But if you choose not to use an ad blocker and are therefore going to be bombarded with ads, they might as well be ads that are relevant to you, right?

Google is rolling out a new feature that enables users to choose the topics they are interested in so the ads they see will be more appropriate to them. But as well as improving the ad experience for users, the new scheme means that advertisers are handed even more information about people that can be exploited for financial gain. It also enables Google to use information it gathers about users to tailor ads.


Wrapping up the handing over of more personal data as a means of personalizing a service is not a new trick, but it's one that many people will fall for. Advertisers will benefit from being able to far more closely target customers, and Google -- presumably -- will be able to charge a premium for this.

But Google needs to sell the idea to its users. It says: "We think these new features will make your Google experience even better". That all sounds lovely, but users are not handed complete control over how the personalization process works. Introducing a series of change to Google Accounts, the company says:

When you use Google services like Search and YouTube, you generate data -- for example, things you’ve searched for, or videos you’ve watched. You can find and control that data in My Account under the Web & App Activity setting.

With this change, this setting may also include browsing data from Chrome and activity from sites and apps that partner with Google, including those that show ads from Google.

Google will use this information to make ads across the web more relevant to you.

Enabling the feature not only enables Google to use the information it directly gathers about users to target ads, but also to use the data from partner sites and services.

If you're interested in opting into the new scheme, head over to the Ads Personalization page -- but be sure to read through all of the small print first.

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