Internet users can find out exactly what information Google thinks it knows about them – and then shares with advertisers – from their search history, including relationship status and even whether they have children.
Tucked away under the phrase ‘how your ads are personalised‘, the search giant reveals to users who have a Gmail account what information it has gleaned about them to share with advertisers.
In just two clicks from a user’s Google account homepage – under ‘manage your data and personalisation’ and then ‘go to ad settings’ – it’s possible to see a long list of estimated interests and facts, including details on shopping habits, favourite sports and even the animals people might want as a pet.
Although Google doesn’t estimate age and claims not to estimate gender, it does use search history to mine an individual profile which helps advertisers target users in a more bespoke way.
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Recognise yourself? Google creates a profile of users according to their search history – and it’s very easy to find out exactly what the search engine giant shares about you
Getting personal: The search giant predicts whether you’re in a relationship and are likely to have your own home, often based on both your search history and information provided by other people in a similar demographic group to yours
The link also shows what the search giant considers to be your likes and dislikes, based on search history, right down to the brand of car you might prefer or whether you’re interested in baby feeding
HOW TO FIND OUT WHAT GOOGLE KNOWS ABOUT YOU – AND SHARES
Anyone who has a Google account can access the information the search engine uses to make up a personal profile of them, which is then shared with advertisers.
Here’s how to find yours Google profile:
1). From your Google account home page, click on ‘Manage your data and personalization’ under Privacy and Personalisation
2). From here, scroll down to ad personalization and click ‘go to ad settings’ – your list will appear
‘Data makes Google services more helpful and relevant, but how we use this information is an individual choice that belongs to you.
‘We keep you informed about what data we collect, how it’s used and why – through Google Account.
‘And we build controls into your Google Account, so that you can choose the privacy settings that are right for you.’
The link – ‘how your ads are personalised‘ – will only work if advert personalisation is turned on on your Google account. Users are able to turn off this feature at any time.
To find out how accurate the Silicon Valley company, worth an estimated $110.8billion, really is, FEMAIL asked seven journalists to put it to the test.
They clicked on the link to find out how well the company really knew them – and got some surprising results:
BRIDIE: ‘I HAVE ZERO INTEREST IN CARS’
When journalist Bridie looked at her Google profile, it had correctly gleaned that she wasn’t a parent but suggested she was an American football fan…something that she says is incorrect
Bridie found out that Google thought she wanted to buy cars, despite her having ‘no interest’ in them
‘This is a bit of a mixed bag – my age is (just about) right and so is my gender but I have basically zero interest in cars (I don’t drive), American football, or computer hardware.
‘I pretty much walk everywhere so don’t really have any interest in urban transport (apart from occasionally looking at CityMapper).
I was very surprised at these as I don’t ever Google them or look them up.
‘I also have a masters degree so that isn’t accurate either (obviously my google searches aren’t as high-brow as they should be).
‘I do love food, rent, and often looking up home improvement hacks – but have no particular interest in groupon.
And while I don’t have a pet I spend most of my time looking at dog videos, so I can get why Google might think I have a furry friend.’
LATOYA: ‘IT SAID I WAS MARRIED, I COULDN’T BE MORE SINGLE’
Shopping habits and relationship status were inaccurate for Femail journalist Latoya
‘I have to admit I’m pleasantly surprised at how wrong my Google’s Ad personalisation is!
‘However, it does make sense considering the wide variety of sites I visit both at work and at home. The search engine correctly guessed my age range, city and interest in fashion.
I have to admit I’m pleasantly surprised at how wrong my Google’s Ad personalisation is…
Latoya, Femail journalist
‘Highly listed is Net-A-Porter, Chanel and Look Fantastic, although I rarely shop online and prefer High Street retailers to luxury brands – so if anything it should suggest River Island!
‘Google also listed my marital status as married, although I couldn’t be more single and claimed that I’d be interested in baby feeding and care, despite acknowledging that I’m not a parent.
‘My education level, homeownership status and size of the company I work for Is also wrong. Overall I’m glad Google doesn’t know me and can’t spam me accurately!’
MONICA: ‘GOOGLE THINKS I’M A MAN’
Monica (pictured) found out that Google thinks she is a man after clicking on the lin
‘The advertising got my age right but I wasn’t over the moon that it thought I was male, I was a bit shocked at the top two suggested retailers as there are definitely places I shop more, and Waitrose is very much not my go to supermarket.
PROTECT YOUR GOOGLE ACCOUNT
Google says the information gleaned ‘is an individual choice that belongs to you’. You can turn off advert personalisation in your Google account and use stricter privacy settings to ensure a profile based on search history cannot be shared.
‘Some of the beauty brands are sites I visit regularly so that wasn’t too much of a shock but I’m not sure why Australian football and baby feeding have somehow managed to wrangle their way in there.
‘Overall I would say this isn’t that accurate.’
After checking, Monica found out that her account’s gender was set to ‘male’, which was what Google was using. She has now set it to female.
It also highlighted whether the Silicon valley company thinks you like household appliances and holidays on the beach
JACK: ‘I LOVE COFFEE AND SAILING – IT WAS SCARILY ACCURATE’
Jack (pictured) thought Google got some of interests spot on, after the search engine said he loved both coffee and sailing
‘This is scarily accurate. I love both sailing and coffee, and these are right at the top of the list.
‘Pretty much the only ones Google got wrong were American Football (a poor man’s rugby) and believing I’m in a relationship, which was a bit of a kick in the teeth.
‘It also got my targeting right. I searched for hire cars the other day for a trip home and now I’m constantly bombarded with ads from rentalcars.com.’
STEPH: ‘HOW DID IT KNOW I’M IN A RELATIONSHIP BUT DON’T HAVE CHILDREN?’
‘Google correctly identified my gender (female) and age range (25-34) and – rather spookily – has worked out that I’m ‘in a relationship’ but ‘not a parent’.
‘It also reflected recent trips I have taken to Paris and Malta, where I used Google to find hotels, restaurants and places of interest.
‘However the analysis was all over the place when it came to my interests.
‘While some like ‘fashion & style’, ‘royalty’ and ‘coffee & tea’ are spot on, others like ‘basketball’, ‘computer hardware’ and ‘motorsports’ are completely leftfield.
‘That being said, these might have been added to my profile as a result of my husband’s browsing as my account is our default for Google Chrome at home.’
PHILIP: ‘THEY GOT MY RELATIONSHIP STATUS RIGHT’
Philip (right) said it was spooky that Google got his relationship status correct
‘They got my age range, gender identity, and the fact that I don’t have any children correct. Slightly spookily they also got my relationship status correct though I can’t imagine what I’ve searched for to allow them to guess that.
‘My interests were also globally correct, they not only correctly divined that I play video games, but also the genre and brand of said video games and my interest in comic books and sci-fi.
‘Though the results were generally correct, there were a few erroneous suggestions, they incorrectly hypothesised that I listen to rap music, and that I’m interested in DJ equipment (I have never DJ’d in my life).’
LUKE: ‘SOMEONE THINKS I LIKE TENNIS… I DON’T!’
Luke found out that Google thinks he’s female after he listed his gender as ‘rather not say’ when he set up his account and the engine began using his search choices to guess
‘As far as building a profile of myself, I thought Google did quite well overall – it got my age, most of my interests and relationship status.
‘However, there was one major pitfall. It thinks I am a woman!
‘This may be because I set my Facebook to female, specifically to confuse advertisers, but as it had managed to get ‘male interests’ in my likes and dislikes I would have thought it might be able to work it out.
Among other possible likes listed by the tech giant were tennis and cats
‘It got that I like cats as well, and the outdoors, but failed to identify my keen interest in chickens, which I have kept for more than ten years, and the fact that I am getting some pet fish, despite numerous searches about how to look after them – perhaps there isn’t a lot of money to be made in these likes.
‘Google had also decided that I like tennis, not something that I’m aware of, weddings, and shopping for cars.’
After checking, Luke found out that his account’s gender was set to ‘rather not say’. However, Google’s advert service had still attempted to predict his gender, and come up with ‘female’.
Security company reveals that trackers from Google are the most common on the internet’s top 50 websites
Security company VPNpro has revealed that Google trackers are the most common on the internet’s top 50 websites.
After counting up those found on popular websites including Amazon, Reddit and WordPress they found that Google had five times more trackers on the sites than the runners up.
Its total of 97 third-party cookies was followed by Facebook and Yahoo, both with 18, and Adobe with 13.
Speaking about the results the researcher who compiled the data, Kevin Marlowe, said: ‘We all know that the trade off for free content or services is the use of our personal data for advertising purposes.
‘However, I think that many people will be staggered by the sheer scale of data collected by many popular websites.
‘There really is no need to use so many trackers. Each time a third-party is involved the risk of your information being shared to even more companies increases. This markedly reduces people’s privacy and security.’