PrivacyChoice.org – Another Great Site for Managing Behavioral Advertising

I blogged about behavioral advertising a couple of weeks ago, and recommended the Network Advertising Initiative’s (NAI) Opt Out of Behavioral Advertising Tool.

Since then, I’ve been informed about another independent project, privacychoice.org, which includes features like a consolidated opt-out bookmark that opts you out of over a hundred ad networks, including those in the NAI.

What does ‘opt out’ really mean?

Advertising companies use information like what you search for, and the websites and web services you use to determine which types of ads to show you. This information may just be used to determine which ads to show on a specific site you’re visiting, or they may be used to place the same ad on multiple sites that you visit, a practice known as ‘retargeting’ or remarketing’ in the advertising industry, and commonly referred to as ad stalking by consumers and privacy groups. See my blog Ad Stalking – When Ads Follow You Online to learn more.

By default your browser (IE, Firefox, etc.) allows companies, including ad companies, to store small bits of information – called “cookies” – that identify your computer as you go from page to page and site to site. These can be very helpful to you – for example, it means a website can ‘remember’ you and your preferences when you revisit the site.

If you don’t want ad companies to be able to collect information, you can ‘opt out’ by changing your default browser settings, by installing blocking software, or by using ‘opt out’ choices that most ad delivery companies provide, but these can be rather hard to discover. Hence the value of sites like privacychoice.org.

When you opt out of advertising cookies, an ‘opt out’ cookie is placed on your computer that tells the advertiser you do not want targeted ads based on your activities and interests.

PrivacyChoice.org features

There is some great functionality available to you through the privacychoice.org website. In this screenshot of their homepage, I’ve highlighted six:

  1. Who’s Watching provides a good definition of what online tracking is, what behavioral tracking is, and what your privacy choices are.

    More importantly, in this section you will see a lengthy list of  companies that permit ad tracking companies to leverage their sites, shows which ad tracking companies they allow and whether those ad tracking companies are respectful of your privacy.The second screenshot shows provides an example of this information.I selected whitepages.com, and we see they allow 13 advertising companies to glean information about your searches.

    Nine of these have gaps in their policies that privaychoice.org flags as concerns, and 6 of the sites are not considered accountable to NAI standards.

    Running the same search on reuters.com shows that they do not allow any advertising companies access.

  2. The Privacy Bookmark tool can be added to your browser using drag-and-drop. This tool will opt you out of tracking by over 100 ad companies, and let you reconfirm your privacy settings at any time with just one click.The tool allows you to opt out of ad tracking from companies that do not comply with industry oversight, opt out of all ad tracking entirely, or if you click ‘more info’ you can customize which ad companies you choose to opt out.This section also provides great information about your choices, and the industry’s self regulation. These regulations include:The NAI guidelines (PDF) that include the follow requirements for their membership:

    Requirements of consumer notice as to their practices in collection, transfer and use of consumer information, both personally identifiable and non-personally identifiable information.
    Means for consumers to exercise choice over the use of their information, including designations of when that choice can be offered on an “opt out” basis or must be offered on an “opt in” basis.
    Restrictions on use of information other than for marketing purposes, and a prohibition on non-consensual merging personal information with information about a user’s online activities.
    Consent to annual compliance reviews directed by the NAI board, and NAI review of any “credible unresolved consumer complaint.”

    The Internet Advertising Bureau principles – click here to see the full text of the principles.

    The Transparency Principle calls for clearer and easily accessible disclosures to consumers about data collection and use practices associated with online behavioral advertising. It will result in new, enhanced notice on the page where data is collected through links embedded in or around advertisements, or on the Web page itself.
    The Consumer Control Principle provides consumers with an expanded ability to choose whether data is collected and used for online behavioral advertising purposes. This choice will be available through a link from the notice provided on the Web page where data is collected.

  3. TrackerScan, a browser add-on (again just drag-and-drop it onto your browser toolbar) that will show you which ad trackers are on any website you visit. Once you’re on the page, just click the TrackerScan and it will pop up a display. In this example, The Washington Post has 9 ad trackers, several of which do not comply with the self regulation guidelines listed in the previous section.
  4. Readers of The Washington Post should be outraged – and let the company know of their displeasure – at the lack of transparency over who is collecting their information through their site, and the disregard for your privacy by permitting access to ad tracking companies who do not comply with the self regulatory standards.

    Play around with this tool. In the case of The Washington Post, I chose look at the review of the privacy policy for Outbrain. You may be more than a little alarmed to see how much of your information they claim the rights to – and have been collecting through The Washington Post without your knowledge.

    Privacy Policy Highlights

    http://www.outbrain.com/privacy

    Anonymity

    “Outbrain is a collaborative intelligence platform. As such, it is predicated on the idea of sharing the intelligence of voting patterns among the outbrain community for the benefit of all outbrain users. We collect the following data through your use of our service:

    Any information you submitted while signing up for the service (including name, email, etc).

    – Your submitted ratings and the documents with which they were associated.

    – Your clicks on recommendations and sponsored recommendations and the documents with which they were associated

    IP address and an associated estimate of your geographic location, referring URL’s, browser and OS and other information normally passed in HTTP requests.

    Information about your engagement with web pages you’ve read where outbrain is installed, including time spent on the page, how you reached the page, and the type of content of the page.

    As part of the outbrain service, your ratings on documents may be shared publicly and associated to the username you chose when signing up for the service. In addition, if you register on the site, your ratings and web page browsing history will be associated with the registration and personal data you provide and we will use that information to provide you with more targeted recommendations. However, any personally identifiable data you provide or that we collect about you will not be shared with 3rd parties (other than our service providers), unless required by law.”

    Sharing

    “We may combine information about your web browsing or rating patterns with those of other people who see outbrain services in order to share trend information – always in aggregate and anonymously – with 3rd parties. For instance, we may use it as part of an aggregated number to tell a prospective sponsor how many people in the outbrain network visit Sports web sites each month.”

    Sensitivity

    Privacy statement does not provide additional limitations on the handling of information in sensitive categories.

    Deletion

    Privacy statement does not state if or when information is deleted.

  5. Three great features for website owners. First, you can use their Free privacy scan of a website you own to see which ad companies are collecting information. You can review your website’s policies against the best practices checklist, and you can make informed choices about which ad tracking companies you permit on your site by looking at tracking company profiles.
  6. What’s in your profile let’s you see any information stored about you by the four listed ad tracking companies. I just wish they had this for ALL the companies…
  7. Compare 5 top privacy tools to learn how marketers may collect your profile online. This comparison of browser-based tools excludes PrivacyChoice because (in their own words) “so no one can accuse us of self promotion“.

Opting out of all ad tracking may not be desirable. This choice does not mean you won’t see advertisements; it just means the ads you see won’t be as relevant to you. If the ad tracking company takes steps to adhere to the industry’s self regulatory practices and does not collect personally identifiable, or indirectly identifiable, information about you, then seeing ads that are more relevant to you can be very useful.

What’s critical is that YOU are in the drivers seat. Website companies who allow ad targeting need to make this very clear to you, and only allow ad targeting companies who adhere to the self regulatory standards.

Linda

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