Opting out ad targeting is not a one-click deal

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Opting out of targeted online advertising is not always easy.

NetDeals.com, a sweepstakes site owned by DoubleClick, has a detailed privacy statement that lists a Web page where users can opt out of receiving targeted DoubleClick ads. However, the listed URL (www.doubleclick.net/optout/default) the week of Jan. 31 led to an error page. A link at NetDeals' site, though, did take visitors to a DoubleClick privacy section (www.doubleclick.net/privacy_policy/privacy.html) that led to the correct opt-out page.

Users who find their way to DoubleClick's privacy section must navigate two pages in which DoubleClick explains its philosophy about Web cookies, the identifiers placed on a hard drive so DoubleClick can send targeted banner ads.

Opting out of ads sent by rival Engage Technologies was more streamlined.

"Engage Knowledge is designed to help companies offer you relevant content, ads and services--without knowing who you are," the site said. "By opting out you may lose some benefits of a personalized Web."

Engage said only a handful of users have opted out of receiving targeted ads. DoubleClick did not return calls.

In addition, the Network Advertising Initiative, a non-profit group including major ad networks such as Engage and DoubleClick, said it intends to soon let consumers opt out via its site (www.networkadvertising.org).

Opt-outs could gain attention as media, regulators and privacy advocates focus more on Net privacy. Last week, the Center for Democracy & Technology headlined its site with "How to reject Double-Click's double-cross" and a report recommending people opt out of DoubleClick's targeting and write e-mails to its partners, asking not to be targeted.

How many users will go through the trouble to do so is open to debate. Relatively few people have taken advantage of the Direct Marketing Association's opt-out options. The DMA has allowed consumers to opt-out of mail promotions from DMA members since 1971 and telephone pitches since 1985. Yet only 3.6 million people have done so for direct mail and 3 million have opted out of telephone promotions. Last month the DMA offered an e-mail opt-out option on its site (www.the-dma.org) and had collected 15,000 e-mail addresses.

Copyright February 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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