What Google Knows

Google has become an indispensable part of our lives.  Their brand name has become synonymous with “look it up,” even sprouting joke websites such as “Let Me Google That For You.” In 2008, The Atlantic asked if Google was changing the way we think, a question others have echoed since.  All of this has made Google very successful — in 2010, the company did $28 billion (with a b!) in ad revenue — that’s more than the gross domestic product of Panama.

Google has a vested interest in knowing a lot about you, the Internet user — it controls so much ad inventory, the better it can target those ads, the better (for them certainly, and perhaps for you).  Being the largest site in the U.S. and the world has its advantages here: Google can use its enormous reach and penetration to figure out what you are interested in.  And they do exactly that, as seen below:


This information comes from Google’s Ad Preference Manager, which one can see here.  (Apparently, a recent survey of area sushi restaurants did not go unnoticed by the mighty Google.) Not everyone will have such a list: if you have ad blocking software installed, or if your web browser does not accept cookies, you won’t see any category assumptions.  But most will.

And if you scroll down, you may (may — a large number of people won’t) see Google’s best guess as to your age and gender:

Creepy?  Perhaps — and to its credit, Google realizes this potential, and lets us avoid having our data collected.  Toward the bottom of the same Ad Preferences Manager is an opt-out button; click it, and Google will no longer track your data.

Bonus fact: In February of last year, Google announced that it had received the okay from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to buy and sell energy — that is, to become an energy broker much like Enron was (or at least, claimed to be).  But Google is not going to be selling energy to consumers.  They obtained clearance from FERC to enter these markets because powering all their servers takes an insanely high amount of power — so much power that, per one estimate, “Google’s data center in The Dalles, OR could require as much as 103 megawatts of power [per year, we assume] to run once it is at full capacity – enough to power the city of Oakland, CA for four months.”

Related reading: “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr, cited in The Atlantic piece above.  104 reviews, 4 stars on average, relatively low because of its controversial nature. Available on Kindle.