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Who Am I, According to Google Ads? Who Am I, According to the Web? Who Do I Want to Be?

By - August 03, 2011

Over on Hacker News, I noticed this headline: See what Google knows about you. Now that’s a pretty compelling promise, so I clicked. It took me to this page:

Goog Ad pref main.png

Ah, the Google ad preferences page. It’s been a while since I’ve visited this place. It gives you a limited but nonetheless interesting overview of the various categories and demographic information Google believes reflect your interests (and in a way, your identity, or “who you are” in the eyes of an advertising client). This is all based on a cookie Google places on your browser.

I was hoping for more – because Google has a lot more information about us than just our advertising preferences (think of how you use Google apps like Docs, or Gmail, or Google+, or Search, or….). But it’s an interesting start. I certainly hope that someday soon, Google will pull of this in one place, and let us edit/export/correct/leverage it. I sense probably it will. If it does, expect some pretty big shifts in how our culture understands identity to take place. But more on that later.

Anyway, I thought it’d be interesting to see who and what Google thought I was. I use three browsers primarily, and I use them in different ways. My main browser has been Apple’s Safari, but lately it’s become slow and a bit of a pain to use. I have my suspicions as to why (iWorld, anyone?), but it’s led me to a gradual move over to Google Chrome, which is way faster and feature rich. I’d say over the past few months, I’ve used Safari about 60% of the time, and Chrome about 30% of the time. The other 10%? I use Firefox. Why? Well, that’s the browser I use when I want anonymity. I have it set to “do not record my history” and I delete cookies on it from time to time. For this reason, it’s not very useful, but I do like having a “clean” browser to try out new services without the baggage of those services sniffing out my past identity in some way. Increasingly, I think this ability will become second nature to us all – after all, we are not the same person everywhere we are in the physical world, and our identity is something we want to manage and control ourselves (for more on that, read my piece Identity and The Independent Web). We just haven’t come to this realization culturally. We will.

There’s currently a pretty hotly contested identity debate in the ourosborosphere, and I find myself aligning with the Freds and Anils of the world. I’m glad this debate is happening, but the real shift will come from the bottom up, as more and more people realize they want to more carefully instrument “who” they are online, and start to realize the implications of not paying attention to this. And entrepreneurs will see opportunities to catch this coming wave, as the time comes for services that help us manage all this identity data in a way that feels natural and appropriate. Sure, there have already been attempts, but they came before our society was ready. It soon will be.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see who Google thinks I am in the three browsers I use. In Safari, where I have the longest history, here’s my profile:

my safari google data.png

I find it interesting to note that Google gets my age wrong (I’ve been 45 for nearly a year), and that it thinks I am so into Law & Government, but that’s probably because I read so much policy stuff for my book, my work with FM and the IAB, and my writing here. Otherwise, it’s a pretty decent picture of me, though it misses a lot as well. I love that I can add categories – I am tempted to do just that and see if the ads change noticeably, but I don’t like that I can’t correct my identity information (for example, tell Google how old I really am). In short, this is a great start, but it’s pretty poorly instrumented. I’d be very interested in how it changes if and when I really start using Google+ (I am on it, but not really active. This is typical of me with new services.)

Now, let’s take a look at my Google Chrome “identity” as it relates to Google Ads:

my chrome data Google.png

Not much there. Odd, given I’ve used it a lot. Seems either Google is holding some info back, or is pretty slow to gather data on me in Chrome. I find that hard to believe, but there you have it. It’s not like I only use Chrome to look for books or read long articles, though I think I have used it for my limited interaction with Google+, because I figured it’d work best in a Google browswer. Hmmm.

Now, on to Firefox, which as you recall is the one I keep “clean,” or, put another way, my identity is “anonymous.”

Firefox data Google.png

Just as I would have expected it.

I’ll be watching for more dashboards like this one to pop up over the coming years, and I expect more tools will help us manage them – across non-federated services like Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s going to be a very interesting evolution.

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  • Patrick

    John,

    “I was hoping for more – because Google has a lot more information about us than just our advertising preferences (think of how you use Google apps like Docs, or Gmail, or Google+, or Search, or….).”

    You can find all this info, related to your @gmail account, on the Google Dashboard ! This actually shows how many e-mails conversations are in Gmail, how many Docs you have, and even insights into your Search trends (i.e. how many searches do you do every day ? month ? which week day do you search the most ? etc…)

    https://www.google.com/dashboard/

  • Patrick

    John,

    “I was hoping for more – because Google has a lot more information about us than just our advertising preferences (think of how you use Google apps like Docs, or Gmail, or Google+, or Search, or….).”

    You can find all this info, related to your @gmail account, on the Google Dashboard ! This actually shows how many e-mails conversations are in Gmail, how many Docs you have, and even insights into your Search trends (i.e. how many searches do you do every day ? month ? which week day do you search the most ? etc…)

    https://www.google.com/dashboard/

  • http://battellemedia.com John

    Yes, of course, forgot about that Patrick. Thanks. Then again, there’s the problem of bringing all my Google (and other) “identities” together, I must have five Google IDs across different emails over the years….

  • http://awwsullivan.blogspot.com/2011/07/internet-meets-internet.html Adam

    I agree with your dashboard prediction. If I’m interpreting this correctly maybe what I wrote in my blog will make sense to you…. Warning: I was excited when I wrote it.

  • Adam
  • http://www.privacychoice.org Jim

    Don’t stop at Google — check out other ad profiles, too:

    http://privacychoice.org/profile

  • http://mattrhysdavies.com Matt Rhys-Davies

    I like how Google plays innocent with just putting forward broad categories, whereas in reality they more than likely know everything from your shoe size to your favourite sauce on your bacon sarnie. 

  • Bob

    Google for the win!