Does Google Accurately Guess Your Age and Gender?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 25 2012 4:14 PM

Does Google Accurately Guess Your Age and Gender?

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Photo by JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

Ars Technica’s Casey Johnston has started a fun new game: find out what Google guesses is your age and gender. These “inferred demographics” are based on the websites you visit and are tracked by a Google cookie; they are used for advertising purposes. Given Google’s controversial announcement Tuesday that users will not be able to opt out of new privacy changes, learning what the company thinks about you seems particularly useful, and informative.

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

We tend to think of Google as all-knowing, but even the search giant can get it wrong sometimes—and does it ever get its “inferred demographics” wrong. An informal survey of Slate staffers found the following:

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-          Women aged 24, 25, and 28 were estimated to be men aged 25-34. So was a 41-year-old woman, which she was quite pleased about.

-          Men aged 30, 41, and 29, plus a 39-year-old woman, were all found to be men 65 or older

-          A 24-year-old man was found to be a woman aged 25-34.

-          Three people were told: "No interest or demographic categories are associated with your ads preferences so far."

-          It got four people right on the nose: a man aged 25-34, a man aged 35-44, and two women aged 25-34.

Google’s attempts to list our interests were much more successful, though heavily influenced by stories Slate staffers were working on. I can’t say I’ve ever looked at “Business & Industrial—Transportation & Logistics—Aviation” for fun.

Google isn’t the only company that can provide entertainment (and a little soul-searching) by offering up what its analytics think about you. BlueKai, AOL Advertising, Bizo, Lotame, Yahoo, and Exelate also share what they think about you. Confusingly, Bizo lists my industry as “manufacturing computer equipment,” while Exelate thinks I’m into fashion.

Does it get you right? Let us know in the comments.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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