For the past week or so, everyone's been discussing that Google disclosure page showing what the search engine has inferred about your age, gender and interests. Some interesting patterns have emerged. For an advanced distribtued search supercomputer, Google reaches some remarkably old-fashioned conclusions.
Google's formulas are still being discovered; this topic has and will be written about endlessly. But more data means more information on how Google and its advertisers pigeonhole us, a topic that, thus far, seems to be endlessly fascinating. Here are some of the emergent stereotypes:
Tech is for men: As many a lady tech reporter has discovered, ogling e-gizmos virtually makes you a man. Wired.com's Christina Bonnington, a gadget writer, looks at the occasional kitten video, but still shows up on Google as a 35-44 year old man thanks to her heavy tech browsing. The New York Times' Jenna Wortham is a 25-year-old man, as far as Google's advertisers are concerned - and did we mention she's one of their tech writers? Forty one year old Mia Harper got pegged as an 18-24-year-old male after showing an online interest in computers.
Mary Sue writer Susana Polo was deemed a 25-34-year-old-male after searching for electronics, prompting her Dan Abrams-backed website to publish a post about Google's "seemingly sexist algorithms." A similar post went up at GigaOm after the same thing happened to three of the site's female writers.
The kitchen is for women: As some men have figured out, an avowed interest in food and cooking can get you labeled as a female. "Oh man, google thinks I'm a 40yo woman because I read food blogs," wrote one tweeter. Rachel McCraw was tagged as a 65+ man on her computer, but correctly identified as a woman on her mobile phone — which she disproportionately uses "for recipes and other cooking/food information in the kitchen." She does not appreciate the resulting weight loss ads, which she said "have less to do with even the interests they've decided I have than with gender stereotypes... [and] which I really do not want to look at."
Newspapers are for old people:"I guess I'm spending too much time at the Sacramento Bee" website, a 30-year-old friend wrote at us. "Google thinks I'm 55-64." Indeed, dead trees do seem to have something to do with it. A newspaper editor and media obsessive, who would fit accurately into the "female 25-34" category, told us how she was deemed a 65+ male after Google noticed her interest in things like "Magazines... Business News... Journalism & News Industry." Just being physically present at a newspaper seems to have an effect: a 27-year-old Detroit Free Press columnist wrote about how Google pegged him at 45-54 years old at home, but 64 years old on his work computer.
Greed is good.... and guy-ish: As flacks April Conyers and Jo Cross have discovered, an interest in finance can convince Google you're a man. Journalists aren't immune from Google ad prejudice either. "Google thinks I'm a guy," tweeted the Forbes Money Builder account. "All those 'male' finance sites. Sexist."
Notice any other interest-gender assumptions Google is making? Check out your profile and let us know. But try not to get too outraged: The only thing more infuriating than Google getting all your personal details wrong would be Google getting all your personal details right. (They're working on it, naturally.)
[Image of Lloyd Bridges statue at Google headquarters via Getty Images.]