Online Privacy: How to Block Google Ads and Adjust Your Settings

Google announced updates to its ad platform that provide users with more transparency. Here's what you need to know, plus an in-depth look at how to best manage your preferences to improve privacy.

Tue, November 01, 2011

CIO — Sometimes the ads that appear in your Google search results or in Gmail are a bit of a mystery. That's why Google is now explaining how they work and rolling out two new features: one that gives you transparency into why the ads are appearing and one that lets you manage the ads that you see.

According to Google, when you perform a search the search engine personalizes the ads that appear in your results by using additional information beyond what you just entered in the search box. For example, if you search for "restaurants" and then search again for "travel" followed by "Boston," the results page for the last search might contain ads for restaurants in Boston, based on the combination of the three searches.

Google also gathers information to personalize ads via your Web History activity, by the pages you have +1'd or, in some countries, based on your visits to advertisers' websites, it says.

Ads that appear in Gmail work similarly. In Gmail, most of the ads Google shows are related to the contents of the email conversation or thread. If you receive many emails about photography, for example, Google might show you a deal from a local camera store. Google says that these ads will appear in Gmail regardless of your preferences or settings, but they can be tweaked.

It's also important to note that while Google will use information in your Web history and Gmail messages, it says it "does not and will never rent, sell or share information that personally identifies you for marketing purposes without your express permission...We provide advertisers only aggregated non-personal information such as the number of times one of their ads was clicked."

Here's what you need to know about how Google ads work, and how you can change your preferences to achieve a level of privacy you're comfortable with.

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New Google Feature: "Why These Ads" Link

One new feature that Google is rolling out to users over the next several weeks is a link below or next to ads that reads "Why these ads." Clicking on it will give you more information about why you're seeing it and how it's personalized for you.

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