Opt Out

One click and you are done. One click and you are saved from the pop-ups, the banners, and the data tracking…or so you think. With the growing awareness of advertisers and companies using personal data and individual online activities, there has also been a growing misunderstanding that the one-click opt out option on websites and digital ads results in total protection.

The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) has created an Opt-out tool that has been developed with input from NAI members with the “purpose of allowing consumers to ‘opt out’ of the behavioral advertising” delivered by the NAI member companies. As stated by the organization’s website, the NAI is a coalition of over 80 online advertising companies committed to complying with tough self-regulatory standards that establish and reward responsible business and data management practices.

In the words of the NAI (and please note the carefully crafted language):

The NAI Opt-out Tool replaces a network advertiser’s unique online preference marketing cookie on your browser with a general opt-out cookie. It does not delete individual cookies nor does it necessarily replace other cookies delivered by network advertisers, such as those that are used for aggregate ad reporting or mere ad serving purposes. Such cookies allow network advertisers to change the sequence of ad banners, as well as track the aggregate number of ads delivered (impressions).

So what does this actually mean for the everyday user? Rumor has it that opting out may stop physically seeing the individual tailored digital advertisements, but the tracking may still be continuing. All of this has become confusing for users and has caused the opt out option to be highly misunderstood.

According to a 2011 Carnegie Mellon University study, tools, such as the NAI Opt-out Tool, were either ineffective or too confusing for the average user; this included those tools of third-party blockers, browser tool options, and the opt-out tools from advertisers. Their results have shown that:

The current approach for advertising industry self-regulation through opt-out mechanisms is fundamentally flawed. There are significant challenges in providing easy-to-use tools that give users meaningful control without interfering with their use of the web. Even with additional education and better user interfaces, it is not clear whether users are capable of making meaningful choices about trackers

All is not lost when choosing the opt-out options. First, it’s a good start. But users have other privacy options besides changing privacy browser settings or clicking on the privacy icon on digital ads. The company PrivacyChoice has developed a system which will score company websites on a 0 to 100 scaled based on how the site collects and uses personal data.

 In a statement, founder of PrivacyChoice, Jim Brock said, “For the first time, Web publishers and their users have a way to easily compare privacy practices across the Web…This transparency not only allows people to make smarter decisions about their own data, it also will spur more protective privacy practices by sites and tracking companies, which is long overdue.”

Although the one click opt-out tool may not save us all, there are other options available and dedicated to individual user data protection.

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