Google and Facebook are full of ads, but the ones you’re seeing are not just random. In fact, the companies strive to build a personal profile of who you are. They want to deliver ads that are relevant and interesting to you. The algorithm that goes into building your ad profile is very complicated, but you can maintain some control by managing your own profile for both Google and Facebook.
Google and Facebook take note of which sites you visit, what type of products you look at, and of course, which ads you click on. However, these sites do not share personally identifiable information with advertisers. For advertisers, you are just some anonymous user number that happens to match their demographic profile. It is nothing that hasn’t been done before with marketing since (quite literally) the creation of marketing. There is a demographic type that reads certain magazines, watches certain TV shows, and lives in certain parts of a city. It is nothing new.
Managing your ad profile can actually be beneficial to you so advertisers will stop wasting your time with annoying, uninteresting ads that clutter up websites. For Facebook and Google, it will also help those platforms to better deliver content (even content beyond ads) to you.
Next page: How to find your ad profile and make changes if needed.
You can view your Facebook ad profile here. I personally am a little underwhelmed by what Facebook thought of me. Judging by the profile, Facebook seems to think that I am a very conservative member of the Florida Democratic party, attend a black church, and my hobbies include “shoes.” Being a white male from the Midwest, this was a little confusing. Facebook also included some very specific interests. For example, my “Business and industry” interests includes “Traffic sign” and “Districts of Sri Lanka.” The “Fitness and wellness” was probably the strangest category which had “perspiration,” “toe,” and “female” as topics that I am interested in. Check out my favorite foods below.
These issues are easy to fix. You can click on an “X” that appears over the interest to delete it from your profile. If you are unsure of what content you will see because of the interest, Facebook lets you see example ads that could be generated from that interest.
Typically, content you see is a combination of factors from multiple interests and other demographic information, like where you live, age, and gender. Oddly, at this time Facebook does not allow you to add an interest. Facebook determines what to add for you and you are allowed to delete it after the fact.
Facebook will even show you advertisers that have access to your contact information and explains why these advertisers have your contact information. It isn’t because Facebook gave it to them, it is because you did. For example, I do a lot of shopping on Amazon. Amazon better have my contact information, otherwise I won’t be getting any deliveries any time soon.
Next page: How to manage your Google ads.
You can view your Google ad profile here. Google did a better job at putting together my profile. That might be because I use Google more than Facebook or that Google has a greater reach into the Internet than Facebook. In either case, it still got some information wrong. Google thought I was much older than my actual age. My apparent interests, or as Google calls them “topics,” include “Celebrities & Entertainment News.” I frequently have to ask my wife for actors’ and singers’ names. Google also includes its fair share of odd topics. For example, Google believes “Hygiene & Toiletries” is an important topic to me on the Internet.
Managing your Google topics is pretty easy. You can simply uncheck topics that are not of interest to you. These topics will stay in your list in case you change your mind later. The major difference between Google and Facebook is that you can actually add topics. Click “+ New Topic” and search hundreds, if not thousands of various topic choices.
If you are not sure why Google selected a particular topic for you, just click on the question mark (?) next to the topic.
The one advantage that Facebook has over Google in terms of data is that Facebook already has your demographic information. Google has to guess, unless you tell it.
Here is where Google originally thought I was in my 60s.
At the very least it is interesting to see what demographic profile these two sites put you in. Neither of their algorithms is super accurate so you might get a few surprises. At the very least, if you use the Internet, it is good to understand how these sites are collecting data on your activities and what information about you they are sharing with advertisers.