Culture

Use these privacy tools against Google's invasive ad profiling

Google's surveillance-based advertising empire profiles internet users to generate billions of dollars. But some people are fighting back.

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In 2014, Daniel Howe, Mushon Zer-Aviv, and Helen Nissenbaum launched a privacy tool called AdNauseam. Its job was to confuse Google's ad targeting system by jamming Google with a bunch of false clicks. This way, Google would have difficulty in creating a summary profile of an internet user that actually aligned with their demographic details and interests.

Since 2019, according to the MIT Technology Review, the creators of the privacy tool have been working on creating an even better version of AdNauseam after it was banned by Google in 2017. Despite Google's claim that it can spot false clicks, AdNauseam is back in business, successfully running tests in which Google did not filter the majority of its clicks. T

he tool continues to help protect internet users from Google by inhibiting its power to create user profiles and suggest ads based on their browsing habits and history. It's a civic service, and one we should all encourage and support.

For years now, a dearth of regulation has allowed commercial surveillance and behavioral targeting to get ever more sophisticated. Meanwhile, the laws that do attempt to protect internet users from being invasively profiled online — including the California Consumer Privacy Act (which frequently appears for browsers) or the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation — have largely proven ineffectual.

Those legislative guidelines focus on limiting third-party advertisers' access to you. Google still maintains the power to be a first-party surveilling enterprise and continues to enjoy unquestioned access to your web browsing habits and history. Some even argue that these laws help Google by giving it a level of access third-parties can't achieve.

What Google says — According to the report, Google spokeswoman Leslie Pitterson rejected claims that the company's defense system against automated ad-clicking is weak. "We detect and filter the vast majority of this automated fake activity," Pitterson said. "Drawing conclusions from a small-scale experiment is not representative of Google’s advanced invalid traffic detection methods and the ongoing work of our dedicated technology, policy, and operations teams that work to combat ad fraud every day."

"We invest heavily in detecting invalid traffic — including automated traffic from extensions such as AdNauseum [sic] — to protect users, advertisers, and publishers, as ad fraud hurts everyone in the ecosystem, including Google," Pitterson added.

What you can do — AdNauseam isn't the only privacy tool that helps thwart Google's attempts to digitally profile you. You can try TrackMeNot too. Pro-privacy advocates are constantly working on solutions that help increase online privacy. Of course, these tools do not cure the problem, but they're steps in the right direction. A stronger move is to stop using Google's products... but that's easier said than done.