I got a healthy dose of reality recently when I came to realize that my virtual profile is much more significant to the world than my physical self, and I have Google to blame for it.
For those of you still operating on the Microsoft Typewriter 32BC system, let me explain that Google is the name of a software company known primarily for its Internet search engine. Or “academic research library” as the youngsters of my generation know it.
OK, that’s not exactly how it works. But I wouldn’t be surprised if someday it is.
Really, what happens is Google saves the things that you seem to find interesting based on the actions you take while using a Google service. Then, using that information, anywhere a Google-hosted ad is displayed, the advertisement will match one of the “inferred demographics” Google has selected for you.
Let’s say I Googled the phrase “best dish soap” for some extracurricular market research on cleaning products. The next time I log into my Hotmail e-mail account—Hotmail is not a Google service, but does display third party ads—I might find some Dawn solicitations.
I’ve actually seen this working: When I was looking at engagement rings online two years ago, I began to notice advertisements for jeweler franchises popping up on random websites. This became problematic when my then-girlfriend wanted to use my computer, as I have a hard enough time keeping secrets without my computer dropping hints like an anvil salesman.
I never gave it much thought until I heard about Google’s new policy on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” news show. Google, they said, now guesses the gender and age demographic of each user, and comes up with a list of interests.
They said if a person was interested to see what Google had to say about them, they should just get on whatever computer they use most frequently, hop onto the Internet and go to google.com/ads/preferences.
Of course, I was interested.
First I checked my Google-ized profile from my iMac, which is the machine I use primarily for graphic design work and goofing off. Google, it turns out, pegged me as a male in the 25-34 age range. (I’m 22, but I wasn’t too offended).
My interests, it said, are arts and entertainment, desktop publishing and fonts, photo and video software, stock photography, online games and the Great Plains and Kansas.
I had to admit, it was eerily accurate.
Intrigued, I pulled the Internet up on my Dell laptop, the computer I use mostly for homework and writing this column. My interests, Google told me, include business and industrial, antiques and collectables, finance and Europe, with an emphasis on Germany.
Then Google told me I was a female—perhaps from the dish soap search?—and that I am in the age range of 45-54 years old. That’s probably a result of listening to public radio.
So Google isn’t 100 percent accurate. But I think I’m OK with that.
Society is already to the point where Internet databases likely hold more information than our Social Security numbers do: When asked to confirm my identity for an account on the UPS website, after entering my name and current address it immediately inquired with my long-forgotten childhood street address, cell phone number and “the name of another person associated with” my current address. Wife Hanna’s name was right there.
If you’re interested to see what Google has to say about you, head over to the address I listed earlier and find out for yourself. In the meantime, Google noticed you’ve read “dish soap” twice in the last 600 words, and would like for you to consider that Dawn gives you overnight soaking power in five minutes.