Why won’t Google change the algorithm?

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In July, I performed an experiment to see how easy it was to run ads on Google that made false claims about Joe Biden.

First, in the Google Ads system, I bought the keyword “should I vote for Biden?” Then I told Google I wanted to run this ad:


Google provides marketers with more than 1,000 flavors of your browsing behavior to target with ads

Image: Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd/Getty Images

If you’ve been following this series so far, you know that Google tracks the websites you visit. Then it passes the data to marketers like me so we can target you with ads based on where you’ve been on the internet.

Google lets us know whether you’ve browsed sites about certain topics recently or over a longer time frame. This is important, as it sculpts our strategy to “convert you” — that is, get you to buy a product or service with our ad.

For example, I would want to serve you a Porsche ad if you’ve been browsing prices…


What Google searches reveal that governments won’t

A healthcare worker talks to people in line at a United Memorial Medical Center Covid-19 testing site in Houston, Texas, June 25, 2020. Photo: Mark Felix/Getty Images

Anosmia — the inability to smell — is an indicator of Covid-19 infection.

According to data from 2.5 million users of the COVID Symptom Study app developed at King’s College London, two-thirds of users who tested positive for Covid-19 reported anosmia, compared to just a fifth of those who had tested negative.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people every day are turning to Google for answers to why they suddenly can’t smell.

So is there a correlation between Google searches for “I can’t smell” and positive case rates of Covid-19? Yes.

Research shows that anosmia searches almost perfectly matched outbreaks


There’s no ‘right’ way to quarantine

An illustration of a black silhouette of a young man against a bright red background.
An illustration of a black silhouette of a young man against a bright red background.
Photo: Rizky Panuntun/Getty Images

What will you do with your time in quarantine? Will you optimize your skill set? Will you maximize your time at home by fine-tuning the same professional skills you’ve been fine-tuning for years?

If not, there are a spate of articles I can show you that might make you feel ashamed.

Shame is abundant and endlessly varied in this pandemic. This quarantine has amplified it even further, as face-to-face accountability is slashed to near- zero.

Some shame is useful — such as the shame we cast on others for going out in public when it’s not necessary. Or for buying…


Buying ads in a pandemic

A photo of a finger touching a line of code on a screen. There is a loading ring around the word that has been touched.
A photo of a finger touching a line of code on a screen. There is a loading ring around the word that has been touched.
Photo: Francesco Carta fotografo/Getty Images

In 2019, I served ads to people in crisis to try to help them. This included people who told Google they were going to shoot up a school, commit suicide, use heroin, or join ISIS. From what I’ve seen, just as ads can get someone to buy a shoe or insurance, they can also convince someone to not carry out a violent or self-destructive act.

And yet I started to find an aspect of this work unsatisfying. Besides Google, I was the only one receiving the data of the people clicking my ads. …


It’s easy for anyone to disaggregate your data, and use it against you

Photo: Benjamin Dada/Unsplash

In December 2018, I wrote that when you click an online ad, your data passes through to Google, and a third-party marketer.

This data includes your location, your age, your income, your web browsing history, where you work, the words you type into Google, the size of the company you work for, if you rent or own a home, if you’re married or single, if you have kids, how old your kids are, the apps you use, the YouTube videos you watch, if you’ve recently gone through a “major life event,” if you drive a Chevy (or prefer Ford), the…


I use ad data to try to save their lives

An illuminated “G” hangs on the wall.
An illuminated “G” hangs on the wall.
Photo: Tobias Schawrz/AFP/Getty Images

A number of the kids I graduated high school with are dead, in jail, or in rehab from heroin.

I’m friends on Facebook with those who stopped using. They post about sober anniversaries, featuring pics of Narcotics Anonymous coins in upturned palms. And I notice when they stop posting. It means they’re no longer incentivized to share the current version of themselves, which usually means they’re back to using.

Many relapsed addicts go dark on social media, and turn to a place where they can share things they don’t want anyone to know: Google.

Every year, approximately 900,000 Americans tell…


And how you can, too

(Photo by Ciel Cheng on Unsplash)

2019 is all about the essay that explains how the writer made hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars through their writing online—seemingly overnight.

The best of these essays reveal that you too can make a lot of money through your writing online by following a few formulaic tips, provided by the writer, who—more often than not—is brand new to this online writing thing.

These humble-brags masquerading as how-to’s inspired me to the point that I could no longer resist writing my own essay about how you too can make money writing online. …


Ad click data is still ethically flawed, but could be a better alternative to predictive A.I.

Credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Here’s a word-for-word search someone in the United States recently typed into Google:

“I am going to shoot up the school tomorrow”

Here are four more:

“I want to shoot up my school”

“What do you do when you want to shoot school up”

“I want to shoot up my workplace”

“I want to shoot a school up please help me”

Every day, Americans tell Google they’re going to shoot up their school or workplace. I know this because I serve ads on Google to prospective mass shooters.

When I have some extra money, I put up a credit card…

Patrick Berlinquette

Founder of a NY search ad agency (like we need another). Finding humor in marketing tech’s depravity. AdTech writing @ NY Times. patrickberlin08@gmail.com

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