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Google provides opt-out on personalized advertising

Earlier this week, we ran a post about targeted marketing and personalized ads, focusing in particular on those creepy ads that seem to follow you all over the Internet. Now, Google has decided to provide a better explanation for those ads and give users of its search engine the power to turn them off.

Of course, Google is only one of millions of web sites that display personalized  ads, but the size and influence of the search leader makes these moves significant. If others follow suit, it could dramatically reduce the impact – and annoyance factor – of personalized ads.

Not every search on Google results in personalized ads but when they do appear they will now be accompanied by a small text bar at the top of the page which reads ‘Why these ads?’ Clicking on that text bar will bring up a window explaining that the ads are based on your current search terms. You will also be invited to visit Google’s Ads Preferences Manager to learn more.

On the Ads Preferences page, Google explains in more detail that the ads they display are related to the web sites you visit, your recent searches and clicks, and information from your Gmail inbox. (Now that’s really creepy!) It also gives you the option to block certain advertisers related to your current search or opt out of personalized ads completely.

Google makes it clear that even if you opt out, you will still see ads relevant to your current search. However, Google won’t use additional information to try and personalize those ads. Google points out that ad preferences only apply to the particular browser and computer that are used to set those preferences, and will only impact Google and not other web sites.

Google uses a couple of statistics to try and persuade you not to bother with the opt-out, suggesting that those who opt in see 10 percent fewer ads than those who opt out. They also point out that opted-in users are 40 percent more likely to click on ads than opted-out users but that’s a stat that’s more relevant to advertisers than users.

Google is undoubtedly hoping that these new tools will silence those critics and lawmakers who have been critical of the way Google and other Web companies track online activity in the pursuit of ever-higher ad revenues. Whatever the motivation, the changes are a welcome boost to consumer choice and give Web users just a little more control over their personal information.

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