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Google's new Ad Settings show how dumb targeted ads still are

Commentary: Hey, I'm just not a sports fan, OK?

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
2 min read

Google: Not the Panopticon after all.

Josh Miller/CNET

I'm as scared as anybody that all of my oh-so-personal data is being turned into a giant dossier that'll help companies and governments target me in all kinds of seminefarious ways. Shadow profiles and the like. 

But if Google's just revamped Ad Settings tool is any indication, those potentially privacy-penetrating algorithms are still pretty dumb

So dumb that I'm happy to share it with you. Here's what Google has on me, Sean Hollister, for the purposes of advertising right now:

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Go ahead and jot this down.

Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

In some ways, this is actually a pretty decent picture of my big-picture interests. Yes, I'm a parent, I'm currently doing a little home improvement and I am most definitely a game and gadget geek.

But I've never watched a soccer game in my life. Outdoor furniture? I've been living in a condo with no front yard or back yard until just last month. I am also not a web designer, I generally don't care for strategy games and my interest in locksmiths ended after the third time I locked myself out of the house. (I bought a keypad lock and never looked back.) 

And honestly, my big-picture interests aren't hard to find. Just take a look at my public Twitter feed, and you'll get a clearer picture than Google offers here.

Watch this: Stop advertisers from tracking you around the web

It's helpful that I can now easily turn off the incorrect assumptions with Google's redesigned Ad Settings tool, or turn off Google's ad personalization altogether. 

But I think I'll leave it for now. Every time I see an ad for a nice new outdoor lounger or a locksmith, I'll know that the world's advertisers still haven't quite managed to build the Panopticon.

One last thing:

Google also announced today that its "Why this ad?" tool will expand to almost all the websites that show Google ads, giving you instant transparency into why any particular ad was shown -- but it doesn't look very useful to me.

The primary reason Google seems to be providing is "Google estimates this interest, based on your activity on Google services (ex: Search, YouTube) while you were signed in," which tells me basically nothing. Here's another example from Google's own blog post:

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Does that look helpful to you?

Update, 10:59 a.m. PT: To clarify that Ad Settings already existed, but has now been revamped.

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