Know Which Companies Track You For Behavioral Advertising?

Fifty-six (out of fifty-eight) behavioral advertising companies were tracking my online actions – until yesterday.

I think I’m a fairly technical, savvy, privacy oriented, safety nut. Which made the realization that at least 56 advertising companies have been tracking my online actions without my knowledge – let alone my express approval – particularly concerning.

I am not opposed to online advertising

Seeing ads online is not what concerns me; knowing which companies are tracking me, how they are doing so, understanding the privacy elements that are in place to protect me, and being able to opt out if I choose to do concern me.

I’ll get back to how you can opt out after a quick review of how we got to this point.

Online advertising pays OUR bills

Remember the dot.com bubble burst of 2000? It happened because internet companies built their content and services on one key concept – that we, the consumers, would subscribe to use their services and thereby make their companies profitable.

There was just one fatal flaw – we didn’t want to pay for subscriptions, we wanted everything to be free. Somehow we forgot that free doesn’t pay the bills, let alone turn a profit, and internet companies either went bankrupt or took huge financial losses.

A new revenue model had to emerge would extract money from those willing to pay, and that happened to be the advertisers.

So next time you want to gripe about online ads, remind yourself that while you pay for internet connectivity, it is the advertisers who are footing the cost of your “free” online content, entertainment, internet enabled communications, providing transaction services, and so on.

Reasonably, advertisers want a return on their investment, a need that requires some consideration. The primary requirement – as with any advertising – is to be able to segment internet user demographics so they aren’t, for example, wasting money marketing shaving cream to toddlers.

What internet companies quickly learned was that the more targeted ads could be, the more advertisers were willing to pay them for access to their users.. and it doesn’t take a leap to understand how we’ve come to a place where ads follow us , and behavioral advertising is the name of the game.

Introducing the Network Advertising Initiative

The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), is a cooperative of online marketing and analytics companies.

In their own words, they are “committed to building consumer awareness and establishing responsible business and data management practices and standards. As increasingly sophisticated online advertising technologies evolve, consumer concerns about their impact on online privacy mount.

The NAI is prepared to meet these concerns with both effective industry self-regulation and sensible protections for online consumers. [something missing here] a group of third party network advertisers who are committed to increasing consumer confidence and contributing to the growth of electronic commerce.”

One of the services the NAI provides consumers is their Opt Out of Behavioral Advertising Tool. As the name implies, this tool allows you to see which member companies are monitoring you for behavioral advertising, and allows you to opt out if you choose.

This does not mean that you won’t see ads – remember the ads pay for your online content and services – opting out just means that you won’t receive ads tailored to you.

If you’re someone who never looks at online ads, this opt out functionality may be just the ticket. If, however, you prefer the ads you see to be more relevant, you may be quite happy with the behavioral targeting. My guess is you’ll land somewhere in the middle, and want to opt out of some services while staying with others.

Now that you know how, the choice is yours.

Linda

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