Google Gives Me a Sex Change!

With all the flap over Google’s change in privacy policy to share user data across its services a few weeks ago, I decided to see what kind of profile Google was building of me. It was pretty funny.

 

I know Google’s got self-driving cars, but who knew they’d found a way to reverse the aging process and give sex changes, all online! Apparently to Google’s advertisers, I’m some kind of geeky metrosexual hacker.

I can’t quibble with the categories, these are all actual interests of mine. What it also tells me is that most of the time I’m browsing the Web, I’m working. Believe it or not the first four categories are all professional interests. The fact that Google infers that only men in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties are into comics and technology is no surprise, though I’ve always thought that at my core I’m really more like a 14 year old boy.

One thing I could infer from these demographics is that Google is not interested (at least at the moment) in building a long-term profile of me. I’d never felt particularly targeted by the ads I saw while surfing, and maybe that’s because I’m not actually a 25 year old-man. But a little more than two years ago, I felt the full power of Google’s ad serving battle station when I got pregnant with my son. My surfing habits dramatically changed, and suddenly all my ads were for strollers and breast pumps and Babycenter. I was reminded of the Futurama episode where Amy sets her calendar to “motherhood mode.” Google ads were more than happy to feed my maternal obsessions through nine months of pregnancy and the first nine or so months of my son’s life, that time when you are desperately sleep deprived and worried that you are seriously messing up this small human being that you are suddenly 100% responsible for. It was a little creepy.

At some point I must have gone back to my normal browsing habits (ie – back to work!), and Google promptly forgot mommy-me, and starting serving geek-me again.

I took this screenshot using Firefox, which is the browser I use most. I was curious what Google could infer from browsers that I use less often, so I fired up their own browser, Chrome. Here’s the screenshot:

Huh. Well, they got the gender right this time, but overshot my age by more than a decade. This one is a little of a head scratcher. I’d like to talk to the algorithm that decided the addition of Java and Teaching made me into some kind of techo-hip first grade teacher. It seems to me that Google must be tracking more about me than they are letting on here. I did try logging in to my personal Google account to see if it changed anything. It didn’t, so I guess they really are looking to the cookie.

I use Chrome primarily for browser testing, and with Google’s own products like Google Docs, calendar, and most of all, hangouts, which are essential for long-distance grandparent video chatting. I’m wondering if Google is tracking more with their own browser and apps.

To be scientific, I also looked at my Google ad prefs through Safari, but there wasn’t sufficient info for them to build a profile on me. That makes sense, I only use Safari for browser testing. I looked at Safari on my iPad too, but that was the same, I don’t do much browsing there. As any toddler’s parent will tell you, iPads are actually for watching choo-choo trains on YouTube and cheerfully annoying Elmo apps.

So, obviously Google is somewhat missing the mark tying browsing habits to demographics, and this is no doubt what is motivating the move to cross-pollenate your stats among their services. Privacy experts are none to thrilled about this, but I’m interested to see how my own profile changes after March 1.

If you want to know who Google thinks you are, visit http://www.google.com/ads/preferences. If the results are as amusing as mine, please share by leaving a comment below!

2 thoughts on “Google Gives Me a Sex Change!

  1. Didja read that article in the NYT magazine about how Target can predict if you are pregnant?

    FWIW Google thinks I am a female, 25-34. The comics, I think they are keeping us young.

    xo

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