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Teens can't tell the difference between Google ads and search results (theverge.com)
73 points by bootload on Dec 8, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 67 comments

Despite the fact that these topmost search results were outlined in an orange box and labelled with the word "Ad," they were only recognized as such by 31 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds and 16 percent of 8- to 11-year-olds

In related news: 70% of teenagers fail basic reading comprehension tests?

I dyed my hair for Halloween. I specifically looked for a brand that wouldn't be permanent. When I was finished, I looked at the box again. It said "permanent" in fairly large letters in two different places, and I'd failed to notice both of them.

From the outside, this might look like "failing basic reading comprehension". But I don't think that's what's going on.

Side note: what color did you dye your hair then?

Red. I was going for https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aladdin_Sane#/media/File:Davis...

(I got lucky. I really like how it turned out, so I'm glad it was permanent.)

In related news: 80% of adults fail basic reading comprehension tests, teens fare much better.

Baselines matter.

Correlating the word "Ad" with the concept "this isn't an actual search result, this is something we were paid to put up here" usually takes someone coming along and spelling out the link. They can read the word, but the association may not have been intuitively made before.

It's just another part of learning.

> In related news: 70% of teenagers fail basic reading comprehension tests?

Or they just don't care. Or they're blasted with ads so much all the time anyway working out the differences just isn't that important to them.

No care enoufh to know? They were asked about the links and didn't identify them as ads.

So? Do you put effort into things you don't really give a damn about? It would appear that you don't.

If we raise a generation of kids who don't understand why recognising an advert and it's implications for privacy might be important, then we can look forward to an era where tracking is even more pervasive than it is now because they're the entrepreneurs and politicians who'll be in charge when we're old. This is a bigger problem than it might first appear.

I use Facebook for social marketing. Facebook rewards me for quality content. The more people treat my advertisements that show up on their news stream like they might have been posted by one of their friends meaning they comment on it, like it, click through, and share it, the more often Facebook will show the ad and most importantly the cheaper is costs me.

I think we have hit peak-computersavvy.

I remember how "old people" (now over 50) have had a hard time learning computers back in the 90s. "Kids these days" just don't see computers as an awesome tool that needs to be mastered and are not socialized to fight with a config.sys to play the game.

Kids in general were never 'computer-savvy,' You worked at that. Everyone just thinks kids were because they weren't scared of breaking the damn thing and so never worried if what they were doing was the right thing to do.

We worked for it hard. Reinstalling stuff, spending evenings fixing problems, frustrating games with vertical learning curves. We have the skills to remove spyware from kids' laptops but must build tools and UIs that are user friendly enough for the next generation.

You were not most kids

In the 1980s and 90s, knowing about computers was also a way for kids to "rebel against old people". It was us who could teach our teachers how to use and program a computer, not the other way around.

That's gone now. Today, config.sys is something "old people" talk about, why would a kid learn /that/?

> In the 1980s and 90s, knowing about computers was also a way for kids to "rebel against old people".

Growing up in the 1980s, knowing about computers was actively encouraged by all the adults in my life (parents, teachers, etc.)

While some of the particular uses of that knowledge may have been rebellious, actually gaining the knowledge itself was not.

> It was us who could teach our teachers how to use and program a computer, not the other way around.

For the people for whom that was true, IME, computer knowledge often wasn't the only thing it was true about.

> That's gone now.

No, to the extent that it was true in the 1980s and 1990s, its still true now. Most adults (including most teachers) still don't know much about computers, and its seems just as common for young people to be able exceed the teachers they are likely to have at skill with programming current computers as it was in the 1980s or 1990s. And there are plenty of rebellious applications of computer-related knowledge for the young.

Interesting thing is, most teens don't even use google as a search engine in the way we are used to doing it. Google Now, Siri, Apps for relevant content, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat are the ways they get info. A huge number lacks in basic CS/IT skills, even tho people claim "the damn kids are computer wizards". Irony is that my 55yr old father is better at using the internet than my 16yr old cousin who grew up using it.

I wonder if the notion that computer wizards are kids isn't an artifact of the 80s and 90s. Back when computers were first reaching a wide audience, you often needed to do some work to manage to install games and have them run smoothly. The machines themselves were less reliable, but more simple than machines today. I don't mean the UI, which was not as welcoming as today's touchscreens, but the internal logic and organization wasn't as complex. So you had kids making the effort to learn these things their parents didn't really get.

Even if it was never the case that most kids were computer wizards, to many people, most computer wizards were kids. The way our minds work, that's just about the same thing.

No, the myth of the young computer wizard is alive and well, and a lot of kids believe the legends themselves.

I actually disagree with the notion that games are what separated the "wizards" from the mooks, and instead just the basics of what made computers interesting (Web Browser, Chat Room, simple applications) are what made the wizards of the 80's and 90's. Parents at the time were already familiar with games by and large via consoles - most of them probably had some version of Atari at least or knew someone who did, and the parents probably thought that all gaming was the same; just stick in the cartridge. I know that personally I had a heck of a time explaining why we needed computer upgrades for various games, or why DSL was essential for my Diablo and Warcraft experiences.

Often it's the simplest of tasks and knowledge, such as knowing how to quickly get accurate search results that aren't from Google/Amazon/Facebook or comfort with whatever office suite that elevates someone to the status of Wizard. A lot of folks have a surprisingly small comfort zone when it comes to computers and online, and being able to operate far outside of that tiny comfort zone is what gives them the impression of wizardry.

I can't think of any teenager friend who uses Facebook, Instagram, Vine, or Snapchat as a substitute for google search. What type of info are you referring to? I'm not sure I understand how you can even use most of those for getting info that one would normally google search for.

My sister is a teacher and tells me the same. The kids are actually pretty clueless these days, when me and my peers were teenagers, we were much more tech-savvy than the teens today.

I think they've gone beyond tech-savvy to tech-trusting; so comfortable with the notion that the Internet is the source of wisdom that they don't apply their critical thinking to that domain.

At work it was common to see even university graduates pasting-in code from the first search result.

Just like teens were much more car savvy in the 70s than in the 90s. And for the same reason. Appliancification

The question is if this research will look different if done across 'older' people :)

Kind of useless without other data to compare to. I bet there would be similar numbers for every age group.

It's just better for traffic/interest to make your study/article along the lines of "OMG you won't believe what kids theses days..."

actually guarantee it is WORSE for the generations that grew up without a computer.

or who do you think is the target group for spam emails? teens?

Remember when Google said all their ads would be text based to be less distracting...

I remember thinking, "I don't even notice they are there" which ironically seems to have been the goal, with the slight tweak of "I don't even notice they are ads".

which pretty much all the time, it is the same as the first organic result.

if you search for "brand x", the first ad will be a paid link to "brandX.com" and the first organic result, will be the same, free link.

But that way Google now can get $1 out of my click from brand X. and they are in a really bad position, because if they do not pay, google can show a "Brand Y" link on the ad spot.

it is a win-win for Google, and a Loose-Loose for companies that want users to find them on websearches.

Not true. Brands can prevent others from marketing on their trademarked terms such as brand name and product names [1]. Unfortunately this is not automatic from Google. Whether or not brands choose to chase this down is on their own time.

[1] - https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/6118?hl=en

You can't prevent people from bidding on your trademark terms, you can only prevent people from using the trademarks in the ad copy.

Can you prevent Google from showing your ad if your site is the first organic result anyway?

Just because your search results show that you are first does not mean they are first for everyone else.

You can limit your ads shown by geography, time of time, and some other factors...

That's one weakly written policy. I wonder if they even get around to looking into the complaint for the small-spending business. The policy does not obligate them to do so.

Even when we were spending 50K USD/month on Adwords it was difficult to get Google to answer emails in a timely manner.

That said, we were able to get results -- it takes time and a ton of persistence.

Might not be cheaper to have to do anything (manual) than just pay for the ad.

doesn't help much if most your new users are searching to correct a mistyped brand name (hipmunk? hipmonkey?...)

No, Companies buy the ad because it pushes the 5th or so organic link off the screen, and doubles their screen space

Instead of teaching you how to analyze old poetry or memorize facts that never enter long-term memory, schools should make you aware of manipulative marketing/sales tactics and how to recognize advertisements.

With my students, I do both poetry and manipulative rhetoric (marketing, politics, etc.); they are less exclusive than you may think.

You are a rare gem, like my teacher who taught us to play the WFF-and-Proof nerd-game "Propaganda"

I'm pretty sure in the past, the colour of the ads were quite different and you could differentiate the blocks much more easily. It just became whiter and whiter over time it seems.

Article says "Despite the fact that these topmost search results were outlined in an orange box and labelled with the word "Ad,""

which is odd because I can't remember the last time I saw ads outlined in a box. They used to have a different background color. It was quite clear that the ad results were something different. Now all you get is this tiny little box that says "Ad". It's quite easy to miss.

Reading the full report, it's pretty clear that it's just the word "Ad" that's in a box (and I'd call it yellow, not orange, maybe my screen settings are off). I had to dig up a browser I don't use, and so doesn't have ad-block - but Google (in English) does indeed add a small box with "Ad" next to (some) sponsored results:


(I had to upload this a few times, as I couldn't readily find any image host that wasn't both free, didn't require login/registering, and didn't wrap the image in some kind of web page -- even after years of using an ad-blocker, my mind refuses to "see" any box/region marked as an ad... The image is the square with the text "Trainers - up to 60% off ..." in it ;-)

imgur.com is a good resource for uploading images, in the future

Does it allow uploading without logging in?

"young people just get technology in a way that older generations don't"

This is not true! The more you're accustomed to a technology the less you understand it. Teens have no f-ing clue how the internet works, how computers work. They don't spend weekends putting together a computer from scratch, and setting up a LAN at one of their friends house.

This is not a criticism, that's just how it is. I remember vividly getting my first VCR. When it was broken my dad and I were able to open it and somehow fix it up (to a point :), now who can do that?

The whole "they were born with it, they just get it" is a myth and totally backward, the more you take a technology for granted the less you understand it.

A review of latter South Park episodes. :D

I had the exact same thought!

The timeline is almost puzzling:

• Episode "Sponsored Content" (s19e08), in which advertising disguised as news is first mentioned, aired on November 18.

• The Ofcom report was published on November 20.

Maybe the report was announced early, Trey Parker and Matt Stone heard about it and got the idea from there?

Maybe, except this entire season has been leading up to it...

I wonder if it's a coincidence that the X-matters crowd happens to be a bunch of teens going Soros agenda.

On the other hand, I know a two-year-old who starts to cry when ads interrupt his truck videos on YouTube.

Get that kid a uBlock Origin for Christmas (or whichever holiday is appropriate) ;-).

This has always been the case for the majority of "normal" people, teens or not.

Can you reference a scientific study to support that claim please?

"Does... does she know? Does she know she's an ad?"

Seems flawed to me, but haven't seen the actual screenshots they showed. The possibility of the top result being both an ad AND the most relevant result do not seem mutually exclusive to me.

Yeah, on multiple occasions I use Google to find the website of a piece of software only for the top ad result to be a link to the website I wanted anyway.

Of course in some sense the ads are search results, just biased ones.

Teens? How about "Most."

Google exec: "Mission accomplished".


Or may be people are getting dumber?

Not dumber, they just live in a different world. We had to use google the proper way, because there were no other tools, or at least not that many. And that became a habbit of ours. This is totally normal thing to me.

I'm pretty confident that isn't the case.

They've got ads on Google?

Google is worth a bazillion dollars and it's customers are paying for chimpanzees to click on ads?

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