Google is everywhere. If you've been on the internet at all in the past 17 years, you know this. For many of the web's savviest users, Google products serve as their primary search engine, browser, email client, document editor, map service, online video portal, and smartphone operating system. Collectively, we've offered up so many inputs that it can now finish our sentences for us, much like a soulmate or spouse.
Every day we're sharing more with Google — often times confessing our darkest secrets and most guarded desires into the keyword bar, and yet, most of us have no idea what Google really knows about our lives. Since most of our inputs into Google are in service of its massive advertising business (this is how it makes $39 billion dollars from us every year), we decided to devise a little game.
We asked BuzzFeed staffers to think about three of their most telling/important general interests (eg: "Football" "Rap Music" "Cats" "Coffee" "Pokemon") and to write them down. Then we asked them to explore their Google Ads profile to see what Google claims to know about them from their website histories and search results. The result is a creepy, dystopian version of the Newlywed Game. The Googlywed Game. Here's what we found:
Contestant No. 1 wrote: cats, nerdy things, recipes
Ok. Two out of three. Not too bad, Google.
Contestant No. 2 wrote: comic books, video games, and reading
Not bad. We're going to need a ruling from our judges on "Computers & Electronics." *lengthy pause for dramatic effect* OK, I'm being told it's worth half credit. Well done, Google!
Contestant No. 3 put down: rap music, celebrity stuff, gay things
Poor form, Google. Poor form.
Contestant No. 4 went with: cooking, animals, entertainment
OK, OK. Two out of three ain't bad!
OK. Contestant No. 5. You wrote: cats, food, hip-hop.
Contestant No. 6: soccer, sci-fi, indie music
All right. Now for our final contestant. Miss No. 7 wrote down: food, TV, books, dogs.
Might be stretching it, but we'll go for three out of four! Pretty good!
Contestant # 7: "I will allow that I've googled a lot of K-Pop videos so East Asian Music is spot on"
In all, we collected about 40 profiles. More often than not, Google guessed at least one of our participants' interests. In many cases, the results were surprising and a bit odd. "Banking and Finance," "East Asian Music," and "Reggaeton" ended up on a lot of lists as did individual car companies and "Vehicle Shopping," much to the surprise of our contestants, virtually none of whom drive cars. The results were rarely uniform but for the most of our contestants (mid-twenties internet workers), they painted a reasonably accurate — albeit broad — user portrait.
So, what did we learn? While this is by no means a comprehensive or scientific study, we found that Google's ad product indeed knows a good bit about you, but in the broadest and most detached of ways, much like playing the Newlywed Game with well-meaning, but low-functioning robot. That quasi-accurate profile is the reason you'll see a perfectly targeted banner ad next to a YouTube video one minute and a bizarre, inexplicable ad for "natural male enhancement" the next.
And with that, it looks like we're out of time. Thanks for playing the Googlywed Game! Tell our fine contestants what they've won:
A WHOLE BUNCH OF FREE INTERNET TOOLS AND A LIFETIME SUPPLY OF GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE!!!!
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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