Hidden in Plain View, the End to Targeted Ads


Web visitors have long held an uneasy truce with marketers, but since targeted ads have emerged, that peace has been threatened.

Not only are some Internet viewers uncomfortable with the way that today’s ads seem to be able to eerily predict people’s needs and wants, others are afraid the companies that supply these ads are harvesting their personal data in search of profit.

This is why the AdChoices program was started in 2010, though too few Internet users know about it even today. According to the New York Times, a 2015 study by the advertising agency Kelly Scott Madison showed that while about 26 percent of the web users surveyed were aware of the program’s icon (which appears on each and every ad in the program), only nine percent of those really understood what it meant.

“I think the intent of AdChoices was really good, and the purpose was very well intentioned, but the consumer education piece never happened,” Kay Wesolowski, digital media director at Kelly Scott Madison, explained to the Times.

How do I opt out? Unlike in Europe, where targeted advertising is generally an opt-in situation, in America, it’s strictly opt-out. Since 2010, clicking on the little blue right-facing triangle on a targeted ad has given online visitors choices about targeted marketing. Although it’s not necessarily the answer to cloaking user data from that track it, using the AdChoices opt-out feature can stop targeted ads from appearing for an individual user.

AdChoices can also explain to the user just how many advertising networks are following them and provide ways for them to opt out of these additional marketing tools. This doesn’t guarantee a stop to information tracking, but the information that is being tracked is a great deal less critical than most users realize. According to the Times, the data being collected relates primarily to hobbies and shopping tendencies. In fact, many services can’t even tell if a user purchased a particular item from a particular retailer, which is why some online users see advertisements for products they’ve already purchased time and time again.

Opting out of targeted ads can help Internet users feel more secure when browsing, but in the end, they may be losing out. After all, those targeted ads might suggest a product or a shop that’s the perfect solution for a frequent problem. Opting in can have benefits, too.


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