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Revealed: what Google knows about you

Justin Grey
27 January 2012 3 minute readShare

Want to know what Google thinks of you, based on all the data it has collected from your searches, email and other Google interactions? It’s now possible to view a profile and customise it to protect your privacy, but critics say the company has no real interest in privacy or even in unbiased search results.

Everyone knows that services like Google and Facebook are only free because they collect colossal quantities of data about you and use it to send you highly-targeted ads.

The demographics section of a Google profile

But now it’s possible to get a glimpse of the profiles they create, at least on Google.


To see your profile, log in to your Google account and visit www.google.com/ads/preferences. You’ll see a list of topics Google thinks you are interested in, which Google calls “categories.” There’s also a snapshot of your demographic profile. For what it is worth, mine is very accurate. Google has put me in the right age group and the Categories it has chosen for me reflect some holiday research I’ve done lately.

You can also edit your profile in case you think Google is getting it wrong


The ability to see and alter Google’s profile of you is one the company’s new privacy initiatives, announced this week. Detailed here, Google says the new policies replace “… over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.”

Many critics believe the new policy is a poor one, because Google can now target ads based on everything you do with its products. That criticism is a little unfounded, given that Google ads are generally unobtrusive and have been based on user behaviour for years.

But the announcement of the new privacy policy comes hot on the heels of another privacy blunder, a new service called “Search plus Your World” which presents search results from Google’s new social network Google+ before results from third party websites.

The significance of the new service cannot be underestimated. Google’s reputation and user base came from providing the best possible search results, and doing so faster than anyone else.



Dozens of businesses arrived to try, as subtly as possible, to twist those results through search engine optimisation. Google slapped down cynical efforts to fiddle search results and constantly changed to ensure the integrity of its products.

Search plus your World changes that, as by making Google+ and other products more prominent in search results the company is clearly funnelling users to its own content rather than agnostically providing results.

Industry analysis firm Ovum said Search plus Your World is troubling. “From Google’s perspective this is a logical move which will raise the visibility of Google+ still further across its properties,” said Chief Telecoms

Analyst Jan Dawson. “In itself the move is not surprising since Google has already taken a number of steps to promote Google+ including a redesigned top bar that follows a user across Google sites.”

“However, this is another decision which threatens to further narrow the definition of evil in Google’s famous motto, ‘don’t be evil,’ for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it risks further accusations that Google is unfairly cross promoting its own services over those of others. Secondly, it risks crowding users’ search results with items they may find less relevant, negatively impacting Google’s core value proposition. This is another example of Google’s occasional bouts of tone deafness about how users will perceive changes.”

Google denies that logic and says the reason for the integration of search and Google+ is to make search better for you. In a blog post announcing the change, the company said it now feels that when you search “You should also be able to find your own stuff on the web, the people you know and things they’ve shared with you, as well as the people you don’t know but might want to... all from one search box.” Doing so, the blog post explains, means you’ll get the most relevant items that Google’s algorithms dredge up plus material from people you are linked to through Google+, a combination of the general and personal it believes will be “so much more meaningful to you than impersonal content on the web.”

Revealed: what Google knows about you
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Justin Grey

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