Analysis of Google Ads Settings Over Time: Updated, Individualized, Accurate, and Filtered

PROCEEDINGS OF THE 22ND WORKSHOP ON PRIVACY IN THE ELECTRONIC SOCIETY, WPES 2023(2023)

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Abstract
Advertising companies and data brokers often provide consumers access to a dashboard summarizing attributes they have collected or inferred about that user. These attributes can be used for targeted advertising. Several studies have examined the accuracy of these collected attributes or users' reactions to them. However, little is known about how these dashboards, and the associated attributes, change over time. Here, we report data from a week-long, longitudinal study (n=158) in which participants used a browser extension automatically capturing data from one dashboard, Google Ads Settings, after every fifth website the participant visited. The results show that Ads Settings is frequently updated, includes many attributes unique to only a single participant in our sample, and is approximately 90% accurate when assigning age and gender. We also find evidence that Ads Settings attributes may dynamically impact browsing behavior and may be filtered to remove sensitive interests.
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Key words
Web Tracking,Transparency,Measurement,Privacy,User Study
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