AOL to let users opt out of targeted online ads

Company says it is protecting users privacy

AOL said it will allow users to opt out of online ads that are targeted to them based on their Web surfing habits.

So-called behaviorally targeted ads use cookies to anonymously monitor and track the Web sites a user has visited. Behavioral ad networks then send that user ads based on the sites the user has visited.

AOL also said it has improved the opt-out process by expanding the use of technology developed by Tacoda, a company acquired by AOL earlier this year.

AOL said it is trying to protect the privacy of its users.

"Our goal with this program is to engender greater trust for targeted advertising by communicating with consumers in a more visible way, and by providing them more information about their choices," said Curt Viebranz, president of AOL's Platform-A said in a statement. "AOL believes that doing more to explain to users the choices they have over the way their data is used, and helping them exercise those preferences will help them feel more in control."

AOL said if a user chooses to block these behaviorally targeted ads, its new opt-out technology will store the user's preference rather than delete it the way the current cookie-based technology does. That means that the user's opt-out preference would remain even if the user chooses to delete his cookies. AOL said it is looking into licensing its technology to other advertising on a royalty-free basis.

"We want to make the opt-out process as simple and transparent as possible," said Jules Polonetsky, AOL's chief privacy officer, in the statement. "We urge the industry to join us in ensuring that users who take steps to minimize the data they provide have their choices maintained."

AOL said it will send millions of public service banner ads across its Web sites as well as other third-party Web sites where it sells ads, explaining the new policy.

AOL said it will be presenting its views on targeted advertising and consumer choice at US Federal Trade Commission workshop, "E-havioral Advertising: Tracking, Targeting, and Technology."

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Linda Rosencrance

Computerworld

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