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Google says you have more control over ads. You may, but does it matter?

Google announced a slew of updates to give users more control over the ads they see on the platform. Or to put it another way, Google is trying to improve targeted advertising by giving users the illusion of greater control. These settings have always existed but Google has given them a fresh coat of paint and dressed them up in its material design UI.

In a blog post by Product Head Philippe de Lurand Pierre-Paul, Google says it is trying to “build products and tools to help you manage that experience” since users have told them over the years that “transparency and control over your data and ad experience are important”.

What are the updates? What control have I gotten?

The updates are a few, the control isn’t much. The updates are basically tweaks in how Google advertises to each user based on the following: your Google Account information, your activity while you’re logged into Google, ad partners who give information to Google when you visit their website (say you visited Amazon to buy headphones, Amazon tells that to Google, and then Google shows you headphone ads henceforth). Also, remember that since you can log in every useful website via Google, the search giant is able to collect that info as well.

Sample this from Google’s blog post:

For example, if you watched highlights from a recent soccer match on YouTube or searched “soccer fields near me” you might see an ad for a slick pair of soccer shorts. If you’ve told us you’re 40 years old, we would be less likely to show you ads about student study abroad programs. And if you visit the website of one of your favorite brands, you might see an ad from them.

The search giant says such information helps it tailor ads according to your Google Activity. Based on this, Google maintains a log of your interest areas, which they call ‘Ad Settings’, which is how they know what ads to show you. The interest log based on your activity can be found for your Google account here. It looks like this:

Google elaborates on the method of information collection for ‘Ad Settings’. The full post is here.

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How ad settings work

Every Google Account has its own ad settings. If you have multiple accounts, your ad settings are unique to each account. Your ad settings are saved when you’re signed in to your Google Account.

When you’re signed in, ads are personalized with the activity and information from your Google Account. You can see and edit your activity at My Activity.

If you’re not signed in, your ad settings are saved to your device or browser. Your ad settings won’t be saved if you clear your browser’s cookies, get a new device, or reset your Advertising ID.

The update allows you to remove a topic from you ‘Ad settings’ if you don’t want to see ads related to it.

Keep in mind that Google is still collecting information on you. It still knows what you’re watching and searching for online, the only difference with this update is that now you can choose which ads not to see. If you don’t want to see targeted ads, you can turn off ‘Ads Personalisation’. You will still see ads, but it won’t be based on your activity. You do not have any more control over the data Google has on you, with this update.

Siladitya adds: Google does offer privacy settings that let you moderate or control the amount of information Google collects from you but that is available on a separate page. Tweaking you ad settings will only change the kind of ads you are being shown not the data being collected from you.

Also, the company is updating the “Why this ad?” feature which it had introduced in 2011. The feature was available on a subset of ads across Google’s services and ad networks. With the update, Google says it will be available on their services which show Google Ads —  YouTube (including the YouTube app on connected TVs), Google Play, Gmail, Maps and Search. It will also show up on “almost all of the websites and apps that partner with us to show ads.”

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