Google gives users greater control over reminder ads, but is it enough?

Martin Brinkmann
Jan 26, 2018

Google product manager Jon Krafcik announced changes to the company's handling of reminder ads, an advertisement that follows users around, yesterday.

Reminder ads are those ads that follow you around when and can appear to be nearly anywhere you go. If you ever placed an item of interest in a shopping cart but did not buy it outright then and there, or have shown interest in a product, you may have noticed that ads for the product or item frequently appear days and weeks afterward.

Companies may provide Google with information on users and matching advertisement, and Google tries to match the information by displaying these ads to matching users.

While reminder ads can be useful to the user as well, it happens that they are not. Maybe you found a better deal and bought the product on another site already. That may not keep the initial site and Google from showing you reminder ads though.

google stop seeing this ad

Google introduced options to mute advertisement in 2012. A click on the arrow icon that is displayed as part of the ad gives you options to mute the ad (stop seeing it) or get more information about it. If you select "stop seeing this ad", you get to another screen where you select a reason for it, for example, because you have seen this ad multiple times or because it was inappropriate.

Google started the roll out of two new "mute this ad" features yesterday. The first applies the muting to any device that you use the same Google account on. If you mute an ad on your desktop PC, it will be muted on the smartphone or a tablet as well provided that you sign in with the same account.

The second is not really a feature but a promise that Google will expand this to other company services such as YouTube, Search or Gmail in the coming months.

Google users may manage reminder ads in the Ads Settings of the Google Account on top of that. It features a new management interface to list all reminder ads and mute them for 90 days.

Closing Words

Google should consider adding a switch to the ads settings to let users turn reminder ads off completely. Some users don't want to be followed by ads, and the only options they have at this point are to sign out of a Google account or use content blocking.

It is easy enough to avoid the majority of reminder ads by not signing in to a Google account when you use Google Chrome or other web browsers or products.

Google claims that millions of users use the mute this ad option on a daily basis, and that the company received 5 billion pieces of feedback in 2017 alone.

Now You: Do ads follow you around on the Internet?

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  1. ULBoom said on January 27, 2018 at 5:59 am

    I’ve never knowingly purchased anything through a web ad except click throughs on sites that provide useful information. Some tell you click throughs give them a small commission, which is fine by me; honesty is good. I’ve purchased through and from this site and many others because of email notifications I requested but all unsolicited email ads get blocked. Because I can and that’s not going to change.

    In general I only see a web ad once every few weeks. google used to be a search company, fb a social media company, both are just ad companies now. When these monopolies quit becoming stinging insects chasing you everywhere, maybe I’ll let ads in and quit using a VPN.

  2. John Fenderson said on January 26, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    “you may have noticed that ads for the product or item frequently appear days and weeks afterward.”

    Nope, never noticed that. Apparently my efforts at preventing advertisers from tracking me is at least moderately effective. That this sort of thing happens is yet another in the lengthy list of reasons to not allow advertisers even an inch.

  3. Stefan said on January 26, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    I never allow ads, they are effectively blocked by addons in Firefox and in the HOSTS-file. There have been too many occassions when ‘trusted’ sites have used infected ads. Whenever a new adserver pops up in Noscript it is added to the hosts as well.

  4. SCBright said on January 26, 2018 at 11:34 am

    The best way is to stay disconnected from Google. On my Desktop and Laptop, I only connect to Google when I need it, for example, to publish videos on Youtube.

    When I do not need more, I disconnect and stay away from these inconveniences.

    I’m just obliged to keep my Android phone connected for obvious reasons.

    1. Sophie said on January 26, 2018 at 11:40 am

      I’ve never once logged into Google. All my Google searches (though they are not my preferred search facility) are conducted with no account, and under VPN.

      In the same way, I don’t use a Microsoft account, only a local one.

      Recently, the BBC started insisting on a signup. That makes sense, because I, as a fee payer for them, do not necessarily want others in the world to gain access without contributing. But what is objectionable here is not that, but the fact that they have started to tie our “viewing habits” into that login, and therein starts the collection of data…IP address over your TV set, and all the things you have preferred to watch.

      In a sense, this is now the issue………the collection of data, more than the adverts themselves.

      1. BM said on January 26, 2018 at 5:07 pm

        I presume SCBright’s comment is to answer Joe’s above it, re: how ads seem to follow Joe around the internet.

        That process is called “remarketing”.

        It is a MUCH higher ROI for advertisers as the trigger is an event that expresses an interest (e.g. visiting their site, especially if doing things that show buyer intent – e.g. putting something in a cart), and ads will follow you elsewhere, even on completely unrelated sites (only where those same scripts are employed).

        I’m not sure if it is just being logged into a google account. It might still be able to follow one around when one does NOT have ad blocking software in play.

        And even if an ad blocker is used, the google scripts (and facebook, as another) have to be blocked (automatically, or black listed, not white listed).

        If one never cleans up the browser detritus, and those scripts are not blocked, then those cookies carry over to future browser sessions.

        IDK for sure, but I would guess that, in the above scenario, if one is also logged in to a google account, even cleaning the browser on closing will be ineffective, IF they log back into google on future browser sessions, and ceteris paribus.

  5. Joe said on January 26, 2018 at 10:53 am

    The biggest problem is not the re-appearing ads, the biggest problem is the fact that we all are being followed around the Internet, and everything we do can be stored and evaluated for future monetisation.

  6. cday said on January 26, 2018 at 10:40 am

    Yes, too much “push” generally…

    If you look at a product on eBay these days and scroll down to see the details, you have to scroll through displays of other items before you get to the details you wish to see.

  7. Sophie said on January 26, 2018 at 9:59 am

    Sorry, but this is absolutely mad…………..

    I posture the possibility that the vast majority of good folks around the globe, would not like to see “any” Ads, given the opportunity.

    I understand that advertising is what Google is all about, but they address this issue, and make various changes….as if “we”, the site-visiting public WANT to manage things….mute them…adjust preferences and wishes, visit account profile pages where “selections” can be made.

    Do they not get it? When an Advert appears on television for example, what do I personally do? Well, I skip it if recorded….or mute it and turn away, or make a cup of tea.

    Its no different in the real world, to the Online world….except that I would venture to say that most people find “reminder ads” pretty creepy, and would love not to have them if they happen to be unsure how to stop them.

    My point is that Google act as if we want to waste our lives “adjusting this or that”, tweaking things for the BEST POSSIBLE AD EXPERIENCE, when in fact, most of us would love to see none, and that does not even get into mobile data abuse, or malvertising.

    I get that Adverts pay for things and that nothing is free…..what I don’t get is that Google seem to come from the perspective that Adverts are great things, a joyous thing that makes our hearts sing, and make us want to rejoice at the beauty of all that capitalism, and commercialism.

    Ultimately, I can only really think of ONE occasion in my whole life when an advert influenced my purchase. Truly….just one! For the rest of the 99.9999% of my life, adverts have just provided annoyance, and actually served to put me off a company, and dislike them….because everything is so very SHOUTY.

    1. Tom Hawack said on January 27, 2018 at 2:33 pm

      All forms of relationships are based on a deal, be it implicit or explicit.
      Can we behave incorrectly with others and expect in return camaraderie?
      Can we enjoy mother nature and treat her badly?
      Can business establish a deal with consumers in an unfair, unbalanced, unethical way?

      Seems to me that rather than denouncing those deals (which is now a vision of the past) the true approach is to consider fairness.

      The advertisement business as it is now is unfair with the way it forces deals. Commerce is as natural to human nature as a smile or a frown is, it is basically a component naturally included in the very nature of mankind. But is has to be ethical and fair.

      We keep on repeating, for most of us, “No” we aim not to conceive a world exempt of trading, one which propose a dimension as utopian as imprisoned in the rigidity of other times. We only wish — and act accordingly in life and on the Web — for fair relationships. The end of ad-brainwashing, the end of ad-force-feeding, the end of ad-tracking, the end of malvertizement. But the rise of a healthy, respectful approach of all relationships including the ones between business and us. It’s everyone’s advantage. Not only are we far from that but it’s getting worse day by day.

      Surprising that the ad business doesn’t apply for itself what is known as the mistake of whatever captain when mutiny emerges. Mutiny is a fact but maybe does the ad business under-estimate it or has decided to trespass it, a fundamental error in both cases. Lower your demands and the return doubles.

      That’s all. IMO of course.

      1. John Fenderson said on January 29, 2018 at 5:34 pm

        Very, very well said, Tom.

    2. John Fenderson said on January 26, 2018 at 7:30 pm

      “I posture the possibility that the vast majority of good folks around the globe, would not like to see “any” Ads, given the opportunity.”

      Perhaps, but personally — I don’t mind seeing ads as long as they aren’t too numerous and don’t involve sound or video. What I find intolerable is the tracking that they bring. As long as that’s part of the advertising deal, I will avoid all internet advertising.

    3. tim said on January 26, 2018 at 11:02 am

      If Google shuts down (their income comes from ads) somebody else will do it.
      It’s delusional to think that they will be no ads on FTA television channels or sites with no subscription. FTA channels income comes from ads, ghacks income comes from ads. If they have no income who is going to pay for the tv shows you watch or who is going to pay ghacks servers?
      At least we don’t see anymore many flash ads and scary pop up crap ads. If you don’t like them use an adblocker, like you mute them and turn away on television.

      1. John Fenderson said on January 27, 2018 at 12:52 am

        “If they have no income who is going to pay for the tv shows you watch”

        Honestly, the amount (and quality) of TV ads drove me away from watching TV entirely. It simply became too painful — in essence, the price I had to pay was more than the shows were worth.

      2. Sophie said on January 27, 2018 at 10:43 am

        The worst, in my opinion, has to be USA and Australia. The TV adverts are so very bad there, that TV watching is almost not possible.

      3. Sophie said on January 26, 2018 at 11:43 am

        About your comment…re: Ghacks……..I also whitelist, but very sparingly. Ghack’s is one such whitelist, because the nature of advertising here is unobtrusive, and the quality of the journalism very high.

        These are just the sites that need support….those that respect, and have great standards.

      4. Sophie said on January 26, 2018 at 11:36 am

        @Tim – I didn’t suggest there should be no ads on television channels. Here in the UK, we have the BBC. We are obligated by law to pay the license fee, and there are no adverts….we’ve paid for it, so that’s fair and correct.

        You have taken my words out of context. The whole thrust of my argument was not that there should be no ads (though I show my disdain for what they have become), but that Google should feel that we are so enamored and delighted about their ad-ecosystem, that we should waste our lives tweaking and adjusting our settings, and to possibly enjoy the wondrous opportunity that Google-Upon-High has let us do that.

        I acknowledge that nothing is free……but at the same time, was suggesting that advertising, in its’ present model, is essentially broken.

      5. BM said on January 26, 2018 at 4:52 pm

        @Sophie – you do have a point with ” that we should waste our lives tweaking and adjusting our settings”.

        Just yesterday, on one site I had to run under incognito mode, google ads were displayed. I hit the little “X” next to the “arrow icon”, where I can choose to “Report this Ad”, and select from a list of reasons, one of which was “Seen This Ad Too Many Times”. The message would then say something like “We will try to not show you this Ad”.

        After a brief pause, google would reload the ad container, and kapow… the EXACT SAME ads would show up.

        After repeating this about 20+ times, I gave up.

        Bottom Line: Even google’s own mechanisms fail to do what they say they will.

        So, yes, it just reinforces to me why I generally use ad blocker tools.

        Ultimately, google (and other advertisers) has to figure out how to do a much better job, as Tim is right, it is their ecosystem’s lifeblood, and it impacts everyone – google, content providers, and ultimately us consumers. After all, without ads, where’s the incentive for folks to spend their time providing good content?

      6. Bruno said on January 28, 2018 at 10:35 am


        The ad settings didn’t work because you were in incognito mode and Google couldn’t identify you and stop showing you the ad.

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