Google’s Gender Reassignment

You all saw the information about Google’s Ad Preferences last week – Facebook and Twitter were awash with people checking out what box Google had pegged them into.  For my part, I came up as 35-44 (correct) and a man (nope, definitely not).

What’s Google playing at?

Take a look at Sarah Kessler’s article on this and you’ll see a large number of commenters who are female in real life but, according to Google, male in their internet life.  Kashmir Hill, over at, explains how Google does it.

I very much doubt lowly little me would ever get an interview with the Google ad supremos or the giant market research companies, such as Neilsen, so I’m conducting an experiment instead.

Take that, Google, I can be a female interested in whatever I like!

Last week, I opted out of ad preferences with Google and cleared my cookies, effectively wiping out my ad preferences and, therefore, that pesky gender reassignment.  Today, I’ve opted back in and reset the cookies.  I’ll continue with my normal web use and then take a looksy at which gender Google thinks I am.

Why does it matter?

This isn’t about the internet filter bubble for me, as I think there are already enough commentators out there who are currently delving into this thorny issue (including the creator of the web).  This is about issues of gender and language and what constitutes ‘female’ and ‘male’ to the larger society around me, cf my rant in a local charity shop yesterday over a book called ‘Nursery Rhymes for Girls.

As a copywriter, I need to get a feel for my audience for a particular advert/website/newsletter.  How I do this depends on my own knowledge for a particular project, as well as research and good communication with my client (have they even thought about who their target audience is?).  So, you could argue that Google is doing what I’m doing, but on a far larger scale.

But, the male versus female decider in the Google algorithm (and the market research surveys that inform Google) still niggles at me :
– Who decides what is appropriate for a woman versus a man to read/browse?
– How is it decided that my interests (which, according to Google are tech, publishing and books) = male?
– Are we becoming more gender segregated rather than less and how much of this is influenced by the language of advertising? (see the great debate over the Pinkification of young girls)
– How can my own writing keep gender neutral and should it even try?

All huge debates; we’ll see if I get to become ‘female and proud’ in Google’s eyes in a couple of weeks.

What did Google come up with for you?  Have you been flattered into a younger Google age?  Gender reassigned?  Does the different language used to denote gender get your back up?  Let me know.