How to Opt Out of Behavioral Advertising – Sort Of
Behavioral advertising, love it or hate it, is here to stay. The virtual economy depends on it -- or so the advertisers would have us believe. And with a record-breaking $12 billion from recent survey and a report on Mashable.
It is fair to say that a majority of the rest of us feel, at the very least, somewhat uncomfortable about how much tracking of personal Web activity goes on. It is a subject covered before on Internet Evolution, but it is well worth returning to as new developments emerge.
Consider, for example, the findings of Krux Digital, a firm that provides services to manage Web consumer data:
As far back as July 2009 there were efforts to encourage the advertising industry to adopt a “Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising.”
Just when it seemed as if this well meant effort had been consigned to the graveyard for good intentions, there are encouraging signs that it may actually take off. The cross-industry body behind the self-regulatory program has recently introduced an “Advertising Option Icon.”
The idea is that participating companies can place the icon on their user-tracking Websites. Clicking the icon will give access to further information on the tracking methodology employed by the site, and, in addition, the user can then choose to opt out of being tracked. Actually, the rest of the site has useful information on cookies and is well worth a read.
Consumer and privacy pressure groups have probably played a role in trying to subdue the rampaging behavioral advertisers. For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation introduced a tool called Panopticlick. If you ever believed that only a minuscule amount of info could be gleaned from tracking, you should have a play with this tool. It works by gathering configuration and version information from participants’ computers, comparing it to other Internet users’ configurations, and producing a “uniqueness” score to show how identifiable you may be on the Web.
To gauge the efficacy of such opt-out tools, consider “Evercookie,” a noxious bit of software developed by Samy Kamkar.
In his blog, Michael Kassner interviewed Samy, asking him to describe how the innocuous-sounding Evercookie works. In a nutshell, it uses a number of locations to store itself, such as Flash cookies, Silverlight isolated storage, and HTML5, so when the standard cookie is deleted, it simply restores itself from one of its other locations.
For a really simple test, try the Network Advertising Initiative’s Opt Out tool. Be prepared for some surprises when you discover how many advertisers are tracking virtually every Web click you make. Even more worrying: After you have opted out, reload the opt-out test page -- and you may find you are still being tracked, even after ticking all the boxes to opt out.
So it requires no crystal ball to look at the future of privacy on the Internet when it comes to behavioral advertising. It would appear, with a $12 billion prize and rising, privacy for any Internet user will become a pipe dream -- and perhaps it is at that stage already.