Google Is Trying to Fix Its Targeted Ad Attitude Problem

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Yesterday the company announced a new feature that not only informs users why targeted ads appear but also provides a little ammo to detonate an unsavory targeted ad.  "You can also go to the Ads Preferences Manager to make changes that improve the ads that you're seeing, including blocking specific advertisers you’re not interested in or turning off ads personalization entirely (of course, you can change your mind at any time)," explains Susan Wojcicki, SVP, Advertising on The Official Google Blog. Being "targeted," these ads are kind of like mind-readers, showing what Google thinks we would want. "We try really hard to show you ads that are relevant," explains lead software engineer, Diane Tang in Google's promotional video. Sometimes, though, Google's robots don't quite get it right; certain targeted ads feel creepy and can even venture into hurtful territory. But now, Google's giving the user a little revenge power, allowing users to delete certain targeted ads. Unfortunately, while the process provides a little catharsis, it doesn't keep other, similar annoying ads from popping up.

If a user sees an add that doesn't sit well with them, clicking the "Why this ad?" link in the ad will give a pseudo explanation of why you got the ad: it can be based on search, a combination of search terms, Web history, or the contents of the e-mail or inbox, for Gmail-related ads.

The explanations aren't too satisfying, as you can see above. But, Google also gives the option to block certain advertisers from showing up, in the Ads Preferences Manager. It will show recent ads that came up on Google search or G-mail, there you can block away the annoying advertisement forever -- unless for some reason you change your mind.

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The problem with this, is that it doesn't change the way Google picks ads. It will still rely on the same algorithm that reads Gmail and remembers Web history, which wouldn't work for some, like an anonymous friend of The Atlantic's Rebecca Rosen. Said friend didn't appreciate Google's "Save Your Relationship" and "Is He Lying?" ads after a bad break-up with her boyfriend. "This snarky little message in my face really pissed me off!," the friend told Rosen. And simply blocking the ad wouldn't really make this problem go away, because another related ad would pop up, too.

The only refuge Google offers is to entirely opt-out of personalized ads completely. But that makes everything spammier. Those who opt in for personalized ads get 10 percent fewer ads than those who receive random advertisements, according to Google. These people are also more likely to click, which is why Google prefers the personalization. But for the recently separated, more unrelated ads might be less harsh than a stream of heartbreak. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.