Coming Soon, A Way To Find Out How That Online Ad Knows What You Like

Last year the FTC asked online marketers to regulate targeted advertising, so in an attempt to avoid new regulatory policies the major ad industry groups have gotten together to launch a new service. Starting late summer, when a targeted ad from a participating marketer appears on your screen, you’ll be able to click a small icon somewhere on the ad and see your profile on that marketer’s site. You’ll also be able to then opt out of future ads from that ad network, reports Wired.

Although it might sound like advertisers are being brave and noble, it turns out that letting people edit their profiles is a good way to gain more information:

“[Google] said publicly that three to four times as many people customize their profiles than the number who opt out,” added [Interactive Advertising Bureau vice president Mike Zaneis]. “They’re actually getting increased consumer engagement and better profiles, and thus you can make the assumption that they’re going to have a higher click-through rate.”

At least one member of the coalition wants software in place to detect when marketers don’t participate, so they can report them to the FTC and maintain a record of good faith participation. But if it turns out that open-access to profiles just means higher quality targeting data, it’s unlikely many marketers will want to miss out.

“Targeted Ads Will Let You Spy on Them for a Change”


Edit Your Comment

  1. Mr. Pottersquash says:

    whodathunkit, giving people access and control over there info turns out to be better for all parties involve. vunderbah!

  2. ndonahue says:

    I can’t wait to see that little icon on my first location specific iAd delivered to my iPhone… I’m fairly certain that I won’t be adding personal information as I choose to “opt out”.

    • Chris Walters says:

      Actually, Apple is using its own opt-out system for the iAds network. You have to visit this site on an iOS 4 device (won’t work on a standard browser). The opt-out happens automatically and is tied to the device you use when you visit the page.

      The site wasn’t working earlier this morning, but it might be now.

  3. smo0 says:

    When I first started seeing this years ago, it freaked me out.
    I really felt invaded – like … wait.. wtf?
    So I canceled myspace…. then it started happening everywhere else….

  4. Katabalu says:

    Great!!!!!!!!!! I do lots of searches for my elderly aunt many ailments, and I always cringe from the laxatives ads and other similar ones following me for a couple of weeks

  5. Major Annoyance says:

    Adblock Plus allows me to opt myself out of most of them anyway. I generally allow ads to help support sites I visit and/or use frequently but the rest of them? Never see them.

  6. Tim says:

    Oo, an industry self-regulating. That sounds like a great idea! Worked so well with offshore drilling, MPAA ratings, arbitration, …

  7. PsiCop says:

    Pardon me if I don’t buy that voluntary “buy in” by all online marketers will magically result in all online advertising efforts being both germane and ethical. I don’t for one moment accept that marketers will refuse to dodge these provisions, if they find it profitable to do so. Ultimately there is no form of self-regulation that cannot be subverted to an industry’s wishes, to everyone else’s detriment.

  8. RickN says:

    Since I need Viagra, a larger penis, and hot Russian girls, I find that 90% of the ads I get are already targeted to me.

    What a concidence!

  9. ellemdee says:

    What are these “ads” you speak of? (Gotta love AdBlock) Also, the Beef Taco (used to use TACO, before it turned into bloatware) FF extension puts opt-out cookies from around 100 ad networks on your system automatically, no manually opt-out required.

  10. sgmax2 says:

    The problem is that opt-out is deliberately made difficult and complex, making it almost impossible to actually OPT-OUT. In addition, as the EFF explains (, your online presence is personally-identifiable from more than just your name and address. 87% of Americans can be uniquely identified from the combination of (gender, zipcode, birthdate). 8 in 10 browsers have a unique “fingerprint” (, so your browsing and purchases can be tracked easily. Just because you don’t see overtly-customized ads on screen does not mean that retailers, information aggregators, or other groups are not targeting specific content or emails to your behavior. They know who you are, exactly where you visit, and they can infer pretty accurately when and why you do so …

  11. ElizabethD says:

    I look forward to doing this. I hate it when a colleague glances at my screen and sees little ads for plus-size lingerie in the margins.

  12. AngryK9 says:

    “Please wait 7 to 10 weeks for your opt-out request to propogate through our servers”

    True story. I got that just the other day whe attempting to “Opt out” of one of those damned keyword ad services