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Facing growing questions about how personal data is used to target advertising, Google today announced a series of updates to its advertising tools designed to help users better understand why they see certain ads and help them control the experience.

In a blog post, Google product manager Philippe de Lurand Pierre-Paul said that while the company still feels personal data helps provides more relevant advertising, Google understands that users remain anxious about what information is being gathered. He said he hopes the new features will help address those concerns.

“With these improvements, you can browse the web confidently, knowing that you have the information and control to make Google work better for you,” he wrote.

The new features come as internet companies such as Google and Facebook are facing a global backlash around their handling of personal data. Europe’s tougher privacy laws recently went into effect, and advertising-dependent internet companies are hoping to take just enough steps to persuade regulators not to go further.


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In Google’s case, the first advertising tool getting an update is Ad Settings, originally launched in 2009. Now users will be able to go into their Google account, click on Ad Settings, and scroll through the list of factors that are considered as algorithms figure out which ads to serve up.

Users can click on the categories to get more detail, and can even remove certain ones if they wish.

“In the new Ad Settings, if you no longer want us to tailor your ads based on one of these factors, you can choose to turn it off,” de Lurand Pierre-Paul wrote. “Turning off a factor means you’ll no longer receive tailored ads related to it across our services, and on websites and apps that partner with us to show ads, as long as you’re signed into your Google Account. The ads you see can still be based on general factors, like the subject of what you’re looking at or the time of day, or any other factor that is still turned on.”

The company is also updating its “Why this ad?” tool, which was originally launched in 2011. This is the feature that lets users click on an ad to learn more about why Google thinks it is of interest to them. Until now, it had only been available on a subset of ads across Google’s services and ad networks.

Now the company says it is expanding the tool to make it available across virtually all of its products and services.

“Starting today, you’ll see Why this ad? notices on all our services that show Google Ads, such as ads on YouTube (including the YouTube app on connected TVs), Google Play, Gmail, Maps and Search,” says the blog post. “We’ve also expanded it to include almost all of the websites and apps that partner with us to show ads.”

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