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August 8, 2008
2 Min Read
In a concession to those in favor of greater online privacy, Yahoo on Friday said it would let its users choose not to receive customized ads on Yahoo.
This new option complements the company's existing opt-out option for customized ads served by Yahoo on third-party networks.
Ad customization is sometimes referred to using the more predatory-sounding term "behavioral targeting." It's a way to serve ads that correspond to consumers' interests, based on inferences drawn from data derived from consumers' declared personal information and/or from observed actions.
Though defended by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and other online companies as a valuable service for consumers, behavioral targeting has been criticized by privacy advocates. Congress and the Federal Trade Commission have been looking into the practice.
"Too many consumers spend time on the Internet without knowledge or notice that they are under commercial surveillance," said Sen. Daniel K. Inouye in a statement during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last month on the privacy implications of online ads. "They assume they are in the privacy of their own home and that this privacy will be respected. Unfortunately, this is not always the case."
Yahoo said its new opt-out option is a response to the congressional inquiry into online ad customization.
"Yahoo strongly believes that consumers want choice when customizing their online experience, and they have also demonstrated a strong preference for advertising that is more personally relevant to them," said Anne Toth, Yahoo's head of privacy and VP for policy, in a statement. "However, we understand that there are some users who prefer not to receive customized advertising, and this opt-out will offer them even greater choice."
Yahoo expects the opt-out option to be available by the end of the month.
But Yahoo may presume too much in thinking that it's granting its users a choice they didn't have already. If downloads can be said to correspond to software users, then there may be as many as 22 million people who have chosen to opt out of advertising altogether using the Adblock Plus add-on for Firefox.
Still, some Yahoo users are sure to appreciate the change.
About the Author(s)
Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility
Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.
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