Thursday, January 17, 2008

How To Opt Out from Behavioral Targeting Networks

Behavioral Targeting has become the buzz words these days. Behavioral targeting Vendors are spreading like wildfire. It is become hard to keep up with all the vendors in the market and find out who is tracking your behavior.

Today visitors, when they visit a site participating in a behavioral targeting network, are automatically opted-in to Behavioral Targeting. The consent to participate in Behavioral Targeting is mentioned in privacy policy of the site, which most of the people don’t read (when was the last time you read privacy policy of a site), and also visitors do not have choice if they want to use the site.
Even though most of the time tracking is done anonymously, using a third party anonymous cookie, Behavioral Targeting has raised privacy concerns. Most of the time these privacy concerns are unfound but still there are chances when it they can become an issue.

To ease consumers concerns and give them control over their tracking, Network Advertising Initiate (NAI) has developed an Opt-out Tool. This tool allows consumers to see what Advertising networks have dropped cookie on their computer and hence are tracking their behavior. If a person does not want any network(s) to track his/her behavior the visitor can "opt out" of the network using this tool.
Opting out of a network does not mean a visitor will no longer receive online advertising. It does mean that the network from which a visitor opted out will no longer deliver ads based on the visitor’s behavior and/or preferences.
One caveat is that opt-out (using this tool) is based on third party cookies. What that means is that third party cookies are dropped on a visitor’s computer from the networks that he/she opt-outs from. When the visitor visits a site that is part of the network, network code reads the cookies and if it finds an opt-out cookie on the computer then if does not track or show targeted (behavioral) ads. If the visitor deletes the cookie or uses a software which deletes the cookies then visitor will be automatically opted-in again and he/she will have to repeat the process of opting out.
I believe that NAI should push this initiative even further and allow consumers to opt-out directly from the ads that are being served based on behavioral data or from the sites where the data is being collected. I am predicting that this year we might see a push in that direction. I also believe there will be opt-in networks instead of opt-outs (I wrote about my proposed solution when discussingGoogle DoubleClick privacy concerns, networks that will allow more control to visitors and reward users for participating in these networks (something similar to MyPoints, which asked for your preferences and then emailed you offers or ads based on those preferences and then rewarded you for clicking on those email offers).
Here are the networks that are part of NAI (I will write about these networks in future articles).

Revenue Science
24/7 Real Media
[x+1] (formerly Poindexter Systems)
Yahoo! Ad Network
TACODA Audience Networks

Here is the screenshot of the tool.
To use the tool visit NAI Website.

I tested it on two computers and was surprised to find out that I did not have network cookies from DoubleClick and Yahoo ad networks on either of the computers. I don’t believe that. So I don’t think the tool is fully functional, I will test various network in few days and report back if I find anything odd. For now, I have left all my cookies as it is because I find the value in behaviorally targeted ads, I will only opt-out for testing purposes. When you guys try can you let me know if you are seeing the same thing?


  1. James K.11:53 PM

    Having tried the NAI tool this morning, I found that almost none of the sites worked, even with no cookie control, and popups allowed.

    Moreover, when going to sites like Yahoo's Web Beacon service or Atlas or such, they did not provide on their Websites any way to opt out. They only referred back to the NAI site which is essentially non-functional.

    The only sites which confirmed opt-out through NAI were Doubleclick, and the Yahoo! ad network. I was only able to successfully opt out manually on the aCerno site, which does provide the function on their own site.

  2. I'm having a mixed experience with the NAI opt out function. Has anyone tried this lately?


I would like to hear your comments and questions.