imagePersonalized ads are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if you’re going to support a site (for example, TeleRead!) by viewing its ads, it would be nice at least to know that you’re only going to get advertisements for things you’re actually interested in. But on the other, maybe the idea that some computer out there knows enough about you to guess what ads you’d like to see gives you the creepy-crawlies.

No matter how you feel about personalized ads, there are ways you can take more control of them—or at least, the ones generated and served by Google. Whether that means giving Google a better idea of what your interests are and aren’t, or blocking Google from figuring out anything about your interests, it’s all done from the very same place.

The Google ads control panel contains the options for adjusting your advertising preferences. At the top is a list of interests Google has guessed you have from your browsing habits. Mine are shown above, as an example.

Some of them make sense, and I can even see where they came from. Google might have guessed my interest in “Hybrid & Alternative Vehicles” from my browsing pages about BlueIndy, for example. “Consumer Electronics” and “Mobile Apps & Add-Ons” is fairly obvious. But I have no idea why Google would think I’d be interested in “Hygiene & Toiletries” or “Make-Up & Cosmetics,” and I don’t even know what “Reggaeton” is. (And why “Toyota”? I’ve never even owned a Toyota.)

And, of course, there are some things that might interest me that I nonetheless wouldn’t want to see advertisements about, such as “Search Engine Optimization & Marketing.” So I went ahead and switched off the things I didn’t want, by unchecking them.

If I wanted to add some other interest, such as “Android OS,” I could click the “+ADD NEW INTEREST” button and type a keyword. Google will autocomplete as you type, and only let you add interests that are listed in its catalog.

On the other hand, if I just want to turn the ads off for good, I could go down to the “Ads based on your interests” toggle and switch it off. That will remove all information Google has about your interests, and remove any personalization from your advertisements (though you might still see ads based on your location).

That’s not the only place where you can adjust advertisements, however. If you scroll the page down, you’ll find a “CONTROL SIGNED OUT ADS” button, that will control the advertisements shown on non-Google sites, as well as ads you see when you’re not signed into your Google account.

Using this button will load content from Doubleclick and Youtube’s advertising domains, and if you use an ad-blocker such as uBlock Origin that blocks such domains, you may have to disable those blocks temporarily or permanently to get through to the control panel.

This page has switches similar to the one on the signed-in ads page, letting you turn off interest-based ads on websites beyond Google (over two million such websites, or so it claims), and also ads that pop up in Google searches. As with the other switch, turning off the interests will still let you see advertising in those places, but it won’t be targeted exclusively to your interests and may be less relevant.

I’m not entirely sure whether this affects the advertisements that are served on TeleRead. I see ads for things like smartphones, audiobooks, and “video ad units for publishers,” which seem to fall within some of those areas of interest. But I also see ads for “supply green additives” offering “surfactant, defoamers & dispersant” and I don’t think that comes from any of my checked areas of interest. So the jury is still out. Still, if there’s the possibility that it does affect things, it might be worth a shot.

Personally, I’m not greatly concerned if Google’s computers know these things about me. I’m pretty confident that the information is only available to Google’s computers, and it’s not likely any nosy humans will go digging through it to see what they can dig up on me. I’m not that important. I actually would like to see relevant ads on the sites where I do view and don’t block the ads.

And I’m personally dubious that turning interest tracking off would do much to secure my privacy in any event. There are just too many places that know too much about me; trying to get cleared out all of them would be a full-time job. But that’s just my opinion. If you’re more comfortable removing personalized information from as many places as you can, please do so.


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