Ads are what makes the web go round

Google Ad Settings and how to tailor them to you

Google brings us wonderful services and the Android ecosystem, but let us remember that its primary function is as a search engine. And secondarily it's to sell ads — and targeted ads, at that. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that, as ads keep on the lights at Google and keep the lights on for many, many sites around the world wide web. And targeted ads help keep the stuff you'd never, ever spend money on away from your eyeballs.

But how does Google know what you want to see? How do those ads target you, and what does Google think you like? And how can you change it if they're wrong, or if you think they're wrong to do it in the first place?

Let's dive into the wonderful, wonderful world of ad optimization.

traditional ads in Google search

How to track a guy in 10 ways

Google tracks and implements ads several ways, and not all of them are controllable (though using incognito mode and other sorts of things do help), but a large part of it is just tracking and analyzing the web history and habits of its users. One account, all of Google also means Google sees and tracks where you're going online and what you're doing. Google also repackages and sells this information to other organizations that sell and place ads — and incidentally, whatever settings we are about to change will not affect that. In your emails, ads are scanned by a computer (and only by a computer) in order to place related ads in there and nothing else.

On Android, in addition to using these methods for ads in the Chrome browser, we have a separate method of advice tracking and optimization that keeps your identifying information out of it. That's called Advertising ID, and we'll get to it a bit later, but first, let's deal with the ads that you'll see the most.

account settings (on desktop)Hiding at the bottom of this page is the jewel through which Google tries to make more money off of the ads they show you.

Diamond in the Account Settings

Now, Google runs ads in many, many places, and the settings for them are all in just a few places, just to make it slightly easier for us. Google Ad Settings can be found at that handy hyperlink we just provided, or in the Account History section of your Google Account Settings. It's the one hiding at the bottom

Ad settings

Now, you'll find two columns of ad settings: ads on Google's own services — Google Search, Gmail, etc — and ads across the rest of the web. Now, you'll see the settings that the ads are based off of, and you'll have options to change a few of them, not many, but a few. Your age and gender are pulled from your Google(+) profile. Languages for your ads are determined by the languages of the websites you visit, so far, so simple. But now we come to the section where we can actually take some action.

Interests: what google thinks they can market to you

Wow, Google thinks I have a lot of interests...

Interests, as stated below the two lists of interests Google has selected for you, are derived from your previous Google activity and your website history respectively. And if you click the edit button next to the list, you'll see a full list and be able to delete irrelevant items.

Web interests... not so much.

To remove an item, simply click the X next to that line. You can add ones in yourself, so if you'd like to steer your ads in a particular direction, feel free. If you want to get rid of all your pre-determined Interests, you can do that too, or you can move down the page a little further and opt out of interest-based ads on Google or AdSense entirely.

Advertising ID

We have some more ad controls in the Google Settings app, too. The button at the bottom will take you to the settings we covered above, but here in the app, we have your Advertising ID and its settings.Now, your advertising ID is an anonymous, resettable "identifier" by which ad companies can track, analyze and market to your device without knowing who you actually are. Here, you can once again opt out of interest-based ads, and you can reset your Advertising ID.

It's worth noting, as Google does in their explanation of Advertising ID, that this will only govern all ads on Android once all developers migrate over to it (some are still on the older Android ID), and while you can opt out of interest-based ads on Android, that is not an order to app developers but merely a guideline, and not something that will take immediate effect. So even if you click opt-out, you may still see targeted ads for a while afterwards.

big honkin ad in the Weather Channel app

So the next time you see these ads and shake your head at how far off-base they are, just remember that they're within your power to change. What's the most bizarre interest that's popped up in your interests?


Reader comments

How to see what Google thinks you like


Thanks, Ara, for this awesome, value-added educational article.
I'm not a fan of the recent trend of non-Android articles. Specifically, the ones with editorial style posts that try to convince people to use Twitter, Facebook Messenger or Google Plus. 'Twitter is good for you!'. I never liked people that pushed me into eating my veggies. Even if they were good for me.
But this one is different. This one gives me the knowledge necessary for me to understand AND control. This one is not trying to push me into using or not using Google. It is just pure fact, with zero editorial.
Thumbs up!

Don't think I have ever clicked on an ad. Don't even notice them being there anymore. I think the value of ads is overblown


Google, Facebook, YouTube, Insert-website-here, doesn't get paid for people clicking on the ad.... They get paid by the number of eyeballs the ad appears in front of... It’s much the same as a commercial on TV. Networks run programing to attract an audience, not to educate, entertain, or inform, but to drag you into watching the advertisements. And the advertisements are strategically placed, with the bulk of the higher paying ads showing up at the commercial break placed just before the end of the show. 20 min worth of programing with 40 minutes worth of advertising to fill up the hour. Clicking on the ad, just like calling the "special" phone number or using a promo code is how advertisers evaluate how effective their advertising money is. Settings offered by Google are nice "Feel Good" things and adjusting your interests only helps them better "Target" you for more ads, but the most effective way for you is to use a good script blocker/ad blocker to prevent the advertisements from taking up valuable real estate on your screen. Regular cookie cleaning, Spyware scans, and removal of "search/help bars" also help preserve your web anonymity. Some may argue that it takes money from the hosts of the website, that may be true, but you can't block them all, and in the world of commercial TV, that's what DVRs are for. If I'm looking to spend my hard earned money, I'll research the products, evaluate the reviews, and track down the best price/service before I spend... Throwing "Click me!!! Click me!!!" constantly in my face will just annoy me and drive me away from that vender

Yeah people way over blow the ad situation. Alot of Googles services are free and thats how they make money. If Google charged you for all their services then people would complain about that. So they can never win. If you don't like the ad situation then move to another platform.

Posted Via AT&T Galaxy Note 3

Actually, they are getting paid usually based on clicks. Adwords is widely used based on this option alone, the CPC bidding. The fact that some of you don't click on ads doesn't mean that a majority of people don't click on ads.

Truly great and useful information. However, I think you got Google's purposes backwards. Their primary purpose is to sell ads. Being a search engine is they primary vehicle for doing that. Or at least the first one.


I don't block ads on my devices, but haven't seen an ad on desktop for years thanks to adblock. I wish more apps offered a 'pay to remove ads' option.

Posted from my Nexus 7 2013 via Android Central App

One of the first things I do with my Android devices is go into their settings and opt out of Google's ads. I do the same anywhere else it's an option and even go further by using a blocking hosts file (ex. MVPS) on all my mobile devices and computers. You'd be shocked not only how many ad networks are used on many websites, but tracking beacons as well. Such beacons or web bugs are used to track your activity on a website (ex. what you click on). Some can even be used across many websites as you browse the web.

An example of a tracking beacon is the Google Ad settings link above in this article. It goes through Google's Doubleclick ad network (ironic isn't it?). I don't think that's AC doing that, but Google. And not to single out AC here, but another example that's been used around here recently is embedded in a URL. It's used to track how many people clicked that URL. This is pretty common across the web though, even my employer uses a shocking amount of tracking stuff on our own website.

The tracking stuff is relatively harmless though as it doesn't have specific personal information directly tied to it. But it can still be rather creepy when you realize the amount of it that happens out there, which is quite evident when you use a blocking hosts file. If anyone wishes to see the amount of ad networks and web bugs (as well as known malicious websites), see this text file of what's included in the MVPS blocking hosts file here:

Where I'm from, we call sugared doughnuts "sand doughnuts" because the granulated golden sugar that's used resembles sand. (Is this bluff working? Is anyone buying this?)

Damn you gesture typing! And damn you being too lazy to proofread! lol

Posted via Android Central App

Thank god. for some reason google has lately been giving me ads for really expensive high fashion for women, which not is only is irrelevant to me, but is irritating as hell. finally can make those go away.