January 27th, 2012

What Google Thinks About Me

This is from the "Ads Preferences" page for one of the iPads.

From "Your categories"

"Books & Literature - E-Books
Business & Industrial
Computers & Electronics - Consumer Electronics - Gadgets & Portable Electronics
People & Society - Social Sciences - Psychology"

These are reasonable summaries of my most probable searches.

From "Your demographics"

"Age: 55-64
Gender: Male"

1-2 decades off and the wrong gender.

Interesting. If you poke around even a little bit, there's a question mark link next to Demographics in the edit screen: "Based on the websites you've visited, we think you're interested in topics that mostly interest people aged 55-64" and next to Gender: "Based on the websites you've visited, we think you're interested in topics that mostly interest men."

As is always the case with google, I want to know how they got there. How many people have filled in the age/gender information? I'm a big believer in Bayes, but GIGO still applies.

This is what the Ads Preferences page shows for my laptop:

Beauty & Fitness - Face & Body Care - Make-Up & Cosmetics
Business & Industrial - Agriculture & Forestry - Livestock
Internet & Telecom - Mobile & Wireless - Mobile Phones - Smart Phones
People & Society - Family & Relationships - Family - Ancestry & Genealogy
Reference - General Reference - Public Records
Shopping - Apparel - Formal Wear


Age: 55-64
Gender: Male

If you're wondering about the formal wear, that's because of an extremely recent search for and purchase of a black top hat and a related effort to buy a woman's tuxedo (failed -- I'm open to ideas. The Jones New York jacket appears to be missing a matching pair of pants and besides its pinstriped. I need plus size. I would consider bespoke.). The ancestry/genealogy/public records is obvious. The Smart Phones is because I was trying to help someone solve a particular connectivity issue (I failed but she succeeded elsewhere). The cosmetics stuff is because I read something on gawker or jezebel about a picture of Snooki without any makeup and was wondering if the photo with the article was a stock photo or the real thing then got distracted by another jezebel pointer to a NYT article about the current makeup styles (I'll be happy to see the end of the smoky eye).

As for the livestock (and this was a real head scratcher), that's because of Obama's spilled milk joke (the most effective bad joke ever -- even orange guy smiled) and coverage on gawker of milk spills that endangered fish/water supplies. The gawker coverage actually was a solid argument for eliminating a requirement on dairy farmers, since most of the spills involved milk _tankers_ and only a very few involved lagoons and so forth on farms.

Basically, this is what happens if you construct a profile based on ten days of me reading the news and doing side research.

I feel like I should go get the other ipads and run ads preferences manager on them, just to see what happens, but I share those enough with R. that it would just be even more confusing so I doubt I'll bother.

One last remark and then I'm going to abandon this (for one thing, I've got the sequel to Treasures of Montezuma just sitting there, waiting for me ...). Ads Preferences is _not_ google's attempt to understand who you _are_. It's an attempt to create clusters of people who behave the same from a search perspective. I'm reasonably certain that's why they aren't using the information they have about my gender and my age (because I checked on the dashboard: they _do_ have that information in several different places). They don't care what gender I am or how old I am. If I act like another bunch of people they've sort of code named nearing-retirement-man, for the purposes of serving me ads, they want to serve me nearing-retirement-man ads, not female-and-42 ads (perimenopausal ads, anyone?).