Opting Out of Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) –

Why is Behavioral Advertising Important?

Advertising and marketing have played a key economic role in funding much of the content, information, community and communication services that billions of consumers use – for free – every day on the internet.

One fundamental element of the advertising model is Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA), which is sometimes termed Interest Based Advertising (IBA).

OBA serves targeted advertising to the viewers of a particular website or platform based upon the browsing activities or interests of that particular internet-connected device (smartphone, computer, tablet, etc).

The rationale that underpins the OBA model is that past behaviors will likely predict future actions; making advertising more effective for the marketer and more relevant for the consumer.

This type of advertising is enabled by the dropping of OBA cookies onto your computer or smart device. Cookies are nothing new, having helped facilitate the modern internet for over twenty years, and they should not to be feared, but respected and understood.

Cookies help websites give you a more personalised experience, adding convenience and ease to remembering login details and passwords, or in enabling e-commerce shopping carts to pre-fill your name and home delivery details. HTTP cookies are used to identify specific users and improve the web browsing experience for them.

Data is stored within a cookie and this data is given a unique ID. When this ID is read by a network server (or ad-server in the case of OBA), it will then know what information to specifically deliver to your computer or device. It is ‘personalizing’ your online journey.

The use of cookies to record user preferences for individual websites is long established and, on the whole, welcomed by consumers. Most cookies are perfectly safe and add considerably to the online experience, but some can track your online activity without your knowledge or consent.

It is important to note that no personal information is collected or used for online behavioral advertising purposes. It is only the browsing activity of the device that is tracked.

An OBA cookie will likely have noted what type of webpages that you have visited or the type of searches you have made, and will have assigned your device to pre-defined interest groups based upon that knowledge – eg ‘prospective car buyer‘ or ‘travel lover‘ or ‘home decorator‘, etc.

Relevant advertising will then be delivered to that device according to these associated interest groups. For example, the’travel lover’ may well be served ads relating to airlines, luggage deals or travel insurance; the ‘prospective car buyer’ may see advertising by major car brands or local auto dealers on their web browsing journey.

Recommended Reading: Protecting Your Online Identity and Ensuring Your Data Privacy in 2022

What happens should you opt out of OBA?

It is important to understand that the use of cookies is prevalent, widespread and well-established. Cookies help make web browsing work better for the consumer, and, as such, cookies have become generally accepted by web users.

However, you can choose to opt out of online behavioral advertising cookies that happen when browsing activity is used to serve up interest-based, behavioral advertising across unrelated third-party websites.

If you choose to opt out of behavioural advertising it is important to remember that it does not mean that you will no longer receive advertising when you are using the internet. However, it does mean that the advertising you see displayed on the websites that you visit will not be customised to you and your interests and may be less relevant to you.

If you choose to opt out of a particular organization engaged in interest-based advertising it will only apply to that particular business’ use of data from the web browser you are using. There are more than 80 different providers for you to turn off or turn on.

Likewise, if you choose to opt out of all online behavioural advertising by the organisations listed, it will only apply to the web browser you are using.  You will need to follow the same process on every different web browser you use on the same and/or different computers or Internet enabled devices. 

Please note that if there are separate user accounts on a computer within a household you are able to tailor your preferences to each account. 

Once you have opted out of OBA, you can always opt back in later. Go back to the same link and simply turn on the providers that you are comfortable with. Alternatively, you can go ahead and delete the cookies on your web browser. Instructions on how to delete cookies are provided here.

What you need to know

Before choosing to turn off online behavioral advertising, it is important to recognise: 

  • Although you may choose to turn off online behavioral advertising, this will not actually prevent you from seeing online ads whilst you are browsing. You will still see ads, unless you have chosen to download an ad-blocker (more on that later).
  • Online behavioral advertising is based on your activities and interests. Marketers are looking to reach consumers like you with more accurate and personalized targeting. The ads that you see whilst browsing online are likely better targeted to your individual needs and interests, and may contain special offers and deals that are not widely known or available.
  • Online behavioral advertising is an anonymously delivered, and as a result,  should never jeopardize your security, nor will it personally identify you.
  • By turning off online behavioral advertising, you will find that the advertising you are presented with will likely be less relevant than before. It will not be tailored to your interests and it could become annoyingly peripheral as a result.

To Opt Out

To reiterate, “opting out” means that you want third-party advertising platforms to limit the information collected and stored about your computer or device and to not target ads that are based on your interests to your browser or device. 

If you use multiple browsers, computers or mobile devices, and wish to limit the information collected and stored or do not wish to receive interest-based advertising on any of them, you must opt out from each browser, computer, and mobile device individually.

Please note that if cookies are not enabled in your browser, or if you use certain ad-blocking tools, the opt-out mechanism may not work properly. Please also note that deleting your cookies does not opt you out.

You may opt out of interest-based advertising from online advertising companies that are members of applicable self-regulatory organizations by visiting their opt-out links:

Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) – http://optout.networkadvertising.org/

Your Ad Choices – https://youradchoices.com/control

Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) – http://optout.aboutads.info/

Digital Advertising Alliance Canada (DAAC) – http://youradchoices.ca/choices

Digital Advertising Alliance EU (EDAA) – http://www.youronlinechoices.com/

DAA AppChoices page – http://www.aboutads.info/appchoices

Opting out in the mobile application environment

It is also possible to limit ad tracking in mobile app environments on your device.

You may opt out in mobile app environments using the “AppChoices” mobile application, which you can download to your mobile device from your App Store or via the Digital Advertising Alliance AppChoices page here.

Things change rapidly in the mobile environment. It may be worthwhile to periodically consult the latest instructions from the major mobile manufacturers,

At the time of writing (January 2022), the methods below are the most current, but we cannot guarantee that they will remain so:

Apple instructions for how to Limit Ad Tracking on devices such as iPhones and iPads

Google instructions for how to express choice on Android devices

What will happen after Opting Out?

Should you go ahead and opt-out of interest-based advertising you should expect the following:

  • Opting out does not stop companies from displaying ads, it only prevents companies from showing you targeted ads based upon your previous online behavior and activity-based interests.
  • Opt-outs do not remove ads. As we have stated before, opting-out of OBA will not prevent you from continuing to see online ads. You may even see online ads from companies from which you opted-out.
  • Similarly, opting out does not disable all advertising: When you browse the internet and see a website, video, or app that uses advertising services by other companies not signed up to a self-regulatory opt-out service, you may still see personalised ads from those other companies.
  • Opting out will not prevent data collection: Companies can continue to collect data about your browsing activity after an opt-out. Opting out will, however, prevent them from using this data to serve you interest-targeted ads or personalised content.
  • Opting out applies only to a single browser: This is an important point – should you opt-out from personalised advertising on, say, Google Chrome, this does not apply to all browsers. For example, you will still need to opt-out separately on Firefox, Safari or Explorer. Opt-outs only apply to your browser, not your computer or device.
  • Opt-outs can be erased by accident: Your opt-outs are recorded using cookies. (As explained above, cookies are small messages or signals that web servers pass to your browser when you visit websites.) So, by clearing your cookies, which many consumers do regularly, you are also by default also erasing your OBA opt-outs.

Be informed, make the right choice and remember:

Cookies are used to save your preferences when visiting a website, allowing you to have an easier, personal experience when next you visit it again.

Cookies improve the way you use important services like online email platforms, or shopping sites, by saving certain options or preferences you have ticked and signed up for. 

You can choose to manage your cookie preferences by going to the privacy settings on your browser. This will allow you to opt-in or out of cookies, as well as choosing whether to accept all cookies, or just the cookies that a specific website requires to use their services effectively.

Opting out of interest-based targeted advertising is possible. This, however, does not mean that you will no longer receive ads when you are browsing online. OBA is just one part of the online ad economy that fuels so much of today’s internet.

For more information on online behavioral advertising and interest-based advertising, please see our companion article here.

Dale Williams
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