What is OBA? Just in case you haven’t noticed, the internet has ads. And in recent years those ad companies have advanced the techniques they use to target specific ads to what you’re interested in from the websites you visit. For example, if you watch a video on ‘auto repair’ via YouTube and then switch to Amazon.com, the site may show you ads for books about auto repair. Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) is the official term for this, but you may have also heard it referred to as interest-based advertising, contextual advertising or ad targeting. Apple calls them iAds within their network, but its all the same idea. To find out more visit the National Advertising Initiative (NAI) at networkadvertising.org. Even if you can’t stop ads completely, it’s important to remember that you have the right to say NO and Opt-Out of these targeted ads.
Why would I WANT to Opt-Out? In a word … Privacy. The only advantage in using OBA is “More relevant advertising creates a benefit for both consumers and companies, because consumers find more of what interests them and companies spend less on ineffective advertising.” – NAI. The logic is that if you are going to see ads anyway, why not cater them to your interests? While it’s a valid point, not everything I do online relates to my retail buying interests. Just because I researched Grandma’s pain medicine online, should I be targeted for prescription drugs? It’s just not comforting to know your being tracked, especially if it’s not relavant. Even if it is relevant, it may not always be appropriate. Target used OBA techniques to find out a teen girl was pregnant before her family did. While it’s not necessarily unsafe if you prefer OBA, it’s certainly safer to Opt-Out.
While most ad tracking companies do not use personally identifiable information (PII), it’s certainly possible for them to use your name or email, specifically if you already have an account with the company and you have agreed to terms and conditions that they reserve the right to change. For instance, Facebook says this under Privacy Settings > Ads, Apps, and Websites > Ads > Edit Settings: “Facebook does not give third party applications or ad networks the right to use your name or picture in ads. If we allow this in the future, the setting you choose will determine how your information is used.”
Other benefits of Opting-Out include performance issues. The NAI identifies 95 ad tracking companies and Google identifies 232 ad tracking companies that obtain activity information from cookies within your browser. This could mean a slower browser experience, and if you are using a mobile web browser, it may mean unwanted data usage as well as more battery consumption, even if this is minimal.
How to Opt-Out If it were just search engines like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo that tracked you, it would be easy, especially since they each offer a simple Opt-Out. But there are a lot of companies that you have probably never heard of that harvest this same information and then provide it to companies you have heard of, like Facebook and Hulu. So, if you really want to get serious about blocking all OBA, the NAI offers a Consumer Opt-Out tool that will block dozens of popular ad networks with a single click. Each company listed has more information available and lists a link to Opt-Out individually.
Apple tracks your preferences a few different ways within their proprietary services on their mobile devices. To Opt-Out of Apple’s iAd network, visit https://oo.apple.com with mobile Safari on your iPhone or iPad and switch it to “Off”. While you’re at it, visit Settings > General > About > Advertising > Limit Ad Tracking and switch it to “On”. To disable location based ads, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Location-Based iAds and switch it to “Off”.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with cookies in each browser you use and learn how to manage them. Cookies are the main method OBA is obtained by these ad networks. While completely disabling the use of third party cookies within your browser can prevent OBA, many things you frequently do online will not work without cookies, so you will have to make exceptions for the sites you trust and use often. Also, keep in mind that if you clear your browser’s cookie information, your preferences will be lost. If you are a Chrome user, Google offers a plugin called Keep My Opt-Outs which will take care of your cookies and keep you Opted-Out.