How to fine-tune the online ads that Google shows youYes, Google is watching you—or at least, it’s watching a “cookie” on your browser that collects anonymous data on the sites you’re visiting, all in the hopes of serving up targeted ads that you’re more likely to click.

Now, one way to deal with Google’s browser cookie is to delete it, or tell Google that you don’t want it tracking your browsing habits.

Then again, you could decide that you actually want Google’s online advertising system to have a better idea of who you are, and what you’re interested in—and then, perhaps, you might actually stand a chance of seeing ads you’d actually consider clicking.

If you’re game, the first step is to visit Google’s Ad Preferences Manager. Click here, then click the “Ads on the web” link in the left-hand column.

Scroll down to the “Your categories” section and you’ll see the various types of things that Google thinks you’re most interested in, all based on your browsing habits.

How to fine-tune the online ads that Google shows you

You can tell Google which categories of online ads you'd be most interested in, or delete any wild guesses it made.

In my case, “Movies” and “Film Festivals” came up big—good guess—along with “Smart Phones” (check), “Sony PlayStation” (very true, given that I’ve been circling the new PlayStation Vita game console), “Gadgets and Portable Electronics” (yes indeed), and, uh … “Anime & Manga” (not so much).

Even more interesting is the next section: Google’s guess on your demographic info. As it turns out, Google nailed it: I am, indeed, male, and I’m between 35 and 44 years old (more on the older end of the scale, to be honest).

So, see anything you want to change? If so, just click the “delete or edit” link. On the following page, Google lets you knock out any categories that aren’t working for you; for example, I went ahead and nixed “Anime & Manga” from my profile. You can also add some categories that Google missed, anything from “Arts and Entertainment” to “Travel.”

Did Google get your age and gender wrong? You can change those settings, as well, in addition to specifying your country and/or state. (Google’s demographic profiling won’t venture into matters of geography unless you tell it to, by the way, and it doesn’t deal with race at all.)

Remember, though, that cookies are browser-specific, meaning that Google may have a different picture of you from one browser to another. The Google ad cookie in Safari, for example, thinks I’m between 24 and 34; the cookie in my Chrome browser, meanwhile, thinks (quite accurately) I’m a bit older. Bad Chrome!

Last but not least, there’s a final setting that I covered in a previous post: the option to opt-out of “personalized” Google ads altogether. Click the “Opt-out” button, and Google will stop tracking your browser with its ad cookie.

Have more questions about Google and its “personalized” ads? And which would you prefer: online ads that are tailored (more or less, anyway) to your interests, or random ads with the assurance that Google isn’t keeping tabs on your browsing habits?

Let us know in the comments below.