About Online Behavioral Advertising

Online behavioral advertising (OBA) is a crucial part of the internet economy. Advertising provides the economic fuel for many of the websites, platforms and online services that billions of consumers use every day around the globe.

Advertising helps make many internet services and websites free-to-use for users. As such, we should appreciate its importance but also understand how we can best control it so that it works for us, the individual consumer.

Online behavioral advertising (OBA) is sometimes called interest-based advertising (IBA). It has been one of the most contentious forms of advertising because it harnesses user browsing behavior to deliver targeted, personalised advertisements to that user.

Previous online behavior is used to predict a likelihood to interact positively with particular advertisements, because of the interests and activity that the user has demonstrated in their past internet browsing history.

Choosing to decline to be involved in online behavioral advertising can be done by going to this website and switching off the data collection capabilities of participating companies.

It is important to note that choosing to decline to participate in OBA will prevent ad networks from serving you advertisements based upon your past online activities, but it will not stop you seeing online advertising.

Websites will still be free to display advertising based upon content, context and your current browsing behavior on their property/properties.

What Is Online Behavioral Advertising?

Online behavioral advertising (also known as interest based advertising) is a method of presenting you, the consumer, with adverts that are more relevant to your interests on the websites that you visit.

The ads are made more ‘relevant’ to your interests because they are served according to an anonymous profile of your device’s online browsing history. This history has been gleaned by collecting data (via ‘cookies’) over time and across different websites and internet properties.

The data allows advertisers to infer that you (or your internet enabled device) share certain interests with other consumers to make up what is termed a target market. People with shared interests are presented with ads for products and services that they will be more likely to respond positively to.

The aim is to enable advertising to be made as relevant to the consumer as possible, and as a result, be more interesting, relevant and effective.

If you’ve ever been scrolling through Facebook and you’ve seen an advert pop up that seems strangely relevant to a google search you have just made, this is almost certainly because of online behavioral advertising.

Best Practice Guidelines

Over the last decade, leading marketing and advertising industry associations across the world, have established consumer-friendly principles and enforcement standards and implemented a comprehensive self-regulatory program regarding online behavioral advertising (OBA).

This industry-wide effort to develop common practices for OBA activities across the Internet was pioneered initially by a US coalition of the largest media and marketing trade associations, including the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), the American Advertising Federation (AAF), the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), and supported by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB).

This collaboration was in response to the Federal Trade Commission’s call to the advertising and media industry to develop self-regulatory principles and practices for OBA.

As a result there came into operation the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising, which were intended to apply broadly to the diverse set of players who work interdependently to deliver relevant advertising intended to enrich the consumer online experience.

Since then, industry-wide collaboration has continued on the development and launch of a self-regulatory program for OBA that will implement the
principles, promoting enhanced transparency and choice and fostering compliance and accountability across the marketing and advertising community—and ultimately protecting this vital segment of the internet economy.

In Australia, in order to make sure that the ethical practice of interest based advertising is enforced, industry representatives developed the ‘Australian Best Practice Guideline for Online Behavioral Advertising’.

The Australian Best Practice Guideline is based on seven principles. These principles have been developed in order to foster transparency, knowledge, and choice for consumers. They can help to apply standards that benefit the consumer to online behavioral advertising.

The principles laid out with the Australian Best Practice Guideline specify that organizations should give consumers information about their online behavioral advertising practices, enabling consumers to exercise their right to opt-out of receiving OBA. This gives consumers a choice as to how their information is used.

The principles ensure that organizations utilizing OBA keep all data safe and secure, as well as carefully and appropriately handling any data pertaining to sensitive issues or groups. Industry players committed themselves to accountability and establishing complaint handling systems for concerned users.

How Does Online Behavioral Advertising Work?

If you were thinking about buying a puppy, you might have made a bunch of various searches in order to find out how best to care for a new dog.

Subsequently, whilst browsing another site, you may be presented with an advert for a pet subscription box. This advert will have likely been presented to you because you, and other people with similar interests to you, have shown interest in pet dogs.

This type of ad-targeting is only available on the internet – normal billboards that you might see when you’re out and about aren’t able to adapt to you in this way. The adverts you see online are potentially more interesting for you and more targeted and cost-effective for the advertiser.

Online behavioral advertising helps present consumers with advertisements that are more relevant to individual interests through the collation of past browsing behavior.

What’s The Difference Between Online Behavioral Advertising And Contextual Advertising?

Online behavioral advertising is different from contextual advertising in that it is based on your computer or smartphone’s previous internet activity.

Contextual advertising is based on the web page you are visiting at that specific time. If you are visiting a car classifieds site you will likely be served display ads for car brands, car insurance and auto dealers because they are contextually relevant to the page you are reading now. The ads served to you have nothing to do with any previous browsing behavior.

However, utilising OBA those same car ads can potentially be served to you when you are subsequently on a movie or news site, as your device’s previous browsing behavior has placed you (or, technicallly, your device) into an auto-buyer interest category.

How Is My Privacy Protected?

You have the ability to control the cookies that you accept or refuse. You can also decline to be served behavioral advertising by a specific company.

Opting out of online behavioral advertising with Google, Meta (Facebook, Instagram) and Twitter can be done by going directly to your account settings.

Alternatively, you can visit this page and do a blanket opt-out for the organisations who signed up to the industry-wide coalition to develop self-regulatory principles and practices for OBA.

In Australia, there are laws that govern the way that your information is used, protected and handled.

The Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) applies to personal information, which, in layman’s terms, is information that can be used to identify you personally.

The information that interest-based OBA data collection companies acquire is generally not enough to identify you specifically – it is, instead, general information about your interests and the sites that you’ve visited.

Consequently, an organisation that uses targeted advertising may not need to comply with the rules in the Privacy Act about how personal information is handled.

However, it’s important to remember that new technologies are making it easier for the information that you give when you are online to be combined. This is called data aggregation.

Dale Williams
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