08 December 2009

Yahoo Thinks You're Gay. Now, Find Out Why.

Ever wonder why you get the particular advertisements you see when using tools like Yahoo?  Most of the time, the ads relate to the content you're accessing at the time, like ads for pet services when you spend all day looking at cute pictures of kittens instead of applying for jobs like you promised you would.

But even if you're not logged in at sites like Yahoo!, Google, or Facebook, those companies tend to collect quite a bit of information on you, creating their own consumer profile of you, which they use to match you up with targeted ads.  Wouldn't it be great to take a look at that profile?  Wouldn't you like the option to edit such a profile, or turn it off altogether?

Thanks to increasing pressure from transparency advocates and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Yahoo! is taking a baby step in this direction.  Yahoo! is launching a test version of it's Ad Interest Manager (AIM), which shows you a summary of the info that Yahoo! has on you.  I haven't logged in at Yahoo! in a while, so without logging in, I took this screenshot of the AIM site.  Now, it definitely gets some things right, like my age range, gender, OS and browser.  It still thinks I'm in DC, which is odd because I'm on the other coast, now.  When I log in, I see exactly the same profile, except that "Entertainment" has been added as an interest.

Note that Yahoo! appears to know who I am, even when I'm logged out!  Yahoo's policy is to de-identify data after 6 months at the most, but they never delete it.

To be sure, this kind of access is only the beginning of what consumers should demand, and the AIM tool has received mixed reviews from confusing, but better than Google to half-hearted.  But, it is a start.

Are there alternative search engines that will show you what data they collect?

[Google's closest analog - Dashboard]

[Edit: Grammar, and the last question.]
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