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

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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.

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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?