Saturday, June 20, 2009

Which ad network is using behavioral targeting on you and how to opt-out?


Have you ever seen ads during web surfing that seem to offer you a solution for exactly the thing you have been researching on lately? That’s called behavioral targeting. Behavioral Targeting is a relatively new form of advertising that has raised privacy concerns among consumers because of the way they invade their privacy.

In behavioral targeting advertising networks place tracking cookies on visitors PCs that collect their browsing behavior and use this information to display relevant ads to them. So if an Internet surfer is searching for say, laptops, the advertisers will start pushing laptop ads to this user in the hope of making a sale.

There is nothing to be paranoid of because the information collected by these cookies are usually anonymous, and flushing the browsers cache usually removes all information collected on you. But you don’t even have to do that, because thankfully, every major advertising network allows users to opt-out of behavioral targeting.

How to opt-out of behavioral targeting

Option 1: An industry group, The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), provides an easy way for users to opt-out of the behavioral targeting performed by its member companies. Just visit their opt-out page to find out which advertising network has currently placed a cookie on your PC. You can then opt-out of either all of these networks or a selected few.


The NAI network currently consist of 29 ad networks.

Option 2: Many more ad networks exist that aren't a part of NAI. To opt-out of these non-NAI ad networks, you can use PrivacyChoice. This one allows you to opt-out from up to 78 ad companies. But PrivacyChoice doesn’t provide you any information about your status in the advertisers market the way NAI provides. Also you can’t see which networks you have actually opted out from.

Be aware that both NAI and PrivacyChoice uses cookies to set the opt-out options in your browser. If you clean the browser cache, this cookie will be lost and you have to reset the NAI or PrivacyChoice cookie by re-visiting their pages.

Option 3: The third option is a Firefox addon called TACO (Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out). The TACO addon permanently sets opt-out cookies to stop behavioral targeting by 40 different advertising networks, including all members of NAI. The advantage of using the addon is that it’s permanent. Clearing your browsers cache or cookies doesn’t remove the opt-out cookies. The obvious disadvantage is of course, it works only with Firefox.


Before I end this article, I want to say that may be behavioral targeting is a bad idea, but Internet advertising is not. Advertising supports free content on the web, contents that you would otherwise have to pay for. Don’t hurt a site by taking only the good contents and blocking all ads that generates revenue for the site. It’s selfish. True, nobody likes pop-up, or flashy obnoxious ads. Use adblock to block them, but use it judiciously. The Internet wouldn’t even exist without ads.


  1. instantfunas readerJune 22, 2009 at 11:14 AM

    I use the mozilla add on 'cookie culler'. It allows you to protect specific cookies from getting deleted. So when you perform a remove all cookies, only the unprotected cookies get removed.

    TACO sounds like a neat extension. I will have to look into it.

    I disagree on the advertising comments. I have no problem with a website tracking what I do on their website. If the Washington Post notices I read alot of sports articles and wants to present with sport ads, that ok.

    I do have a problem with an adnetwork that tracks what I do over a series of websites. I also have a problem with the lack of disclosure of exactly what they are tracking. I also wish they would provide of way for the people they track to have their data removed. Right now we can only opt out of future surfing. What has been previously tracked will remain on their servers.

  2. You are right. Unfortunately, behavioral targeting is done over a "series of websites", not a single site, because such visitor tracking is done by ad networks which runs across hundreds/thousands of websites.

    A single website (like the Washington Post example you gave) would rarely collect information on visitor's behavior unless they want to sell something. And if they do, they must disclose it in their privacy policy.

    I understand your concern about previously tracked data still remaining on their servers, and allowing people to remove them. But as long as those data are not used or cannot be used to trace back to the specific person, there is not much to worry about. Also the data is usually retained only a few months, or at most up to a year.


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