Google doesn't do a very good job identifying us based on our Internet habits, according to our very small and not-too-scientific, 12-person study of The Atlantic Wire staff. Ars Technica's Casey Johnston discovered that this Ad Preferences page reveals what Google has inferred about us via our Googling in order to serve us all the best kind of ads. Like everyone else, after we learned about this your Atlantic Wire team went to check just who Google thinks we are. The surprising thing was just how wrong Google was, correctly predicting both the age and gender of just three of us. (Eight of us, or 67 percent, were pegged as 65-plus old men, which we are not; while Richard, Ray, Alex, and I were all determined to be men between 25 and 35.)
Google markets a "demographic bidding" service, which it sells to advertisers as a way to get "more control over the demographic groups who see your ads," explains the Inside AdWords blog. For example, if a company wants to sell a pair of women's basketball shoes to 18-24 year-old females, this feature will lead them to that audience. "You could raise your bids to increase the frequency with which those users see your ads. You can also restrict your ads from certain users if you think they're not meeting your ROI goals," continues Google. In theory, this sounds like something from which advertisers would benefit. "If you want your ads to be seen by women aged 18-24, or people over 55, demographic bidding can help," reads Google's demographic bidding help page. But that all depends on Google being able to tell which Internet user is which.
Beyond age, Google's page also gives a list of "interests," compiled, we guess, from things we Google or email about often. Google knew quite a bit about our interests. While we would worry about these results if we were buying ads according to this data, there is something reassuring about the Internet not being as all-knowing as some fear. Of maybe this is just another ego-exploiting ploy by Google to get us to hand over more personal data lest we be mistaken for advertising-unfriendly senior citizens.