How YouTube Has me Pegged

Over the last year I’ve replaced a lot of my TV watching time with YouTube watching time: over the lazy holiday Monday yesterday, for example, I watched (an embarrassing) 75 minutes of YouTube (I know this because, helpfully, YouTube now includes a “Time Watched” counter in its mobile app).

Other than the increasing commercialization of YouTube via subtle sponsored content–”Siemens offered us a trip to Berlin, so we took them up on it”–the thing that bothers me the most about YouTube is the irrelevance of its advertising. I’m shown a steady diet of car and truck ads, for example, for cars and trucks I have no intention of purchasing. And ads for banks when I have no intention of switching banks.

For a while I experimented with turning off YouTube’s “ad personalization” feature, but that only made things worse, as I ended up with an unending torrent of video game and Christian Heritage Party ads.

To figure out why I’m seeing all the car and banking ads, I took a look at my Google Ad Settings (anyone who uses Google can do this), and here’s what I found Google thinks about me and my interests:

  • 45–54 years old
  • Male
  • Air Travel
  • Amsterdam
  • Audio Equipment
  • Bars, Clubs & Nightlife
  • Boating
  • Books & Literature
  • Business & Productivity Software
  • Business News
  • Business Services
  • Car Rental & Taxi Services
  • Celebrities & Entertainment News
  • Cleaning Services
  • Comedy Films
  • Computer & Video Games
  • Computer Components
  • Computer Hardware
  • Computer Peripherals
  • Computers & Electronics
  • Cooking & Recipes
  • Country Music
  • Coupons & Discount Offers
  • Credit Cards
  • Cycling
  • Distributed & Cloud Computing
  • Dogs
  • Domestic Services
  • Extreme Sports
  • Family
  • Family & Relationships
  • Folk & Traditional Music
  • Food & Grocery Retailers
  • Gardening & Landscaping
  • Home & Garden
  • Home & Interior Design
  • Home Automation
  • Indie & Alternative Music
  • Investing
  • Jazz
  • Mobile Phones
  • Mountain & Ski Resorts
  • News
  • Office Supplies
  • Outdoors
  • Parenting
  • Performing Arts
  • Politics
  • Price Comparisons
  • Printers, Copiers & Fax Machines
  • Restaurants
  • Shopping
  • Social Networks
  • Travel
  • TV & Video
  • TV Documentary & Non-fiction
  • Urban Transport
  • USA
  • Vehicle Shopping
  • Visual Art & Design

Given that I’ve no interest in “Mountain & Ski Resorts,” “Domestic Services,” or “Jazz,” I don’t have a lot of confidence in Google’s AI and its ability to ferret out what makes me me. Of course there’s always the possibility that Google’s AI is so smart that it’s discovered an interest in snowboarding that even I don’t know that I have.

Regardless, somehow “Vehicle Shopping,” “Investing” and “Credit Cards” ended up on the list, and I’m going to remove them and see whether the stream of ads I see changes in reaction.

Here’s a list I pared down, using “if I must see ads, at least they should be about this” as my criteria:

  • 45–54 years old
  • Air Travel
  • Amsterdam
  • Books & Literature
  • Cycling
  • Folk & Traditional Music
  • Home Automation
  • Indie & Alternative Music
  • Mobile Phones
  • Office Supplies
  • Performing Arts
  • Restaurants
  • Travel
  • TV & Video
  • TV Documentary & Non-fiction
  • Urban Transport

While I was allowed to remove my gender–who wants to see ads targeted specifically at men?–Google does not allow me to remove my age.