Yahoo to offer customized ad opt out

Yahoo said it will start letting site visitors opt out of receiving customized advertising.

Yahoo said it will start letting users opt out of receiving customized advertising later this month, in an announcement the company made along with its response to a congressional inquiry about online privacy practices.

On August 1, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce asked 33 companies to answer a series of questions regarding their privacy policies related to customized advertising practices. The companies were asked to respond by Friday. While Yahoo released its response, companies sometimes ask such congressional committees to keep their answers private.

By the end of August, users will be able to visit Yahoo's privacy center and choose to opt out of customized advertising, Yahoo said. Yahoo's privacy center is linked from almost every page of the company's Web sites, it said.

Currently, Yahoo lets people opt out of receiving customized ads on its partner sites, but not on its own Yahoo.com pages. To opt out of those ads on partner sites, Yahoo directs users to the Network Advertising Initiative page, a single site where Internet users can opt out of receiving advertising cookies from many companies including Google.

The congressional committee said in its letter that it is investigating privacy concerns related to data collection practices of services that tailor advertising based on users' Web surfing. Internet advertisers are delivering such tailored ads in an effort to better encourage users to click on ads. Search and advertising companies often leave a cookie on end users' browsers with information about the users' recent online activity. That allows the company to present ads related to the recent activity in hopes of interesting the user. Some privacy advocates are concerned about exactly what type of data the companies are collecting and how else they might use the data.

Yahoo won't be the only search and advertising provider with a customized search opt-out mechanism. On its privacy center, Google lets users opt out of receiving cookies that would help Google deliver customized advertising.

In addition to members of Congress, end users are also clearly interested in the privacy issue. For the month of July, around 75,000 people visited the opt-out page of Yahoo's privacy center, the company said in its letter. Yahoo said it is not able to count how many people have opted out because it only knows that people do so when its advertising system sees cookies on users' browsers.

Also, after receiving pressure from privacy groups, Google only last month added a link on its home page to its privacy practices.

Google, AOL and Microsoft did not immediately respond to queries about their responses to the congressional inquiry. Other companies that also received the request include AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Qwest, EarthLink, Level 3, Verizon, XO Communications and Covad.

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Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service

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