Transparency pays off

When I first started using Google’s browser, Chrome, I noticed how the ads served up were much more targeted than I what I was used to.  I also noticed that I have a much harder time ignoring targeted ads.  I hardly ever notice the  regular ads that clutter the web pages I visit.  Subconsciously I must have trained my brain to ignore this kind of advertising.  Since these targeted ads feature content directly related to my recent web searches, they stand out more and they cause my privacy paranoia to flare up.

Despite Chrome being the fastest browser I had ever used, the ads were annoying enough for me to stop using it as my main browser.  I even avoided buying from the business that was serving most of these ads to me.  Then other browsers became better (or worse?) at serving up targeted ads so I resorted to clearing my cookies and history more often.  I started using Chrome again but still keep Firefox as my main browser.

Zappos Criteo Screenshot
Zappos Criteo Screenshot, click to view larger

Then something interesting happened.  After browsing Zappos last week, I was presented with targeted Zappos ads for shoes similar to the ones I was looking for.  This time however, there was a “Why am I seeing this ad?” link included.  Clicking this link, redirected me to a Zappos branded page on ‘Criteo.com’.  The page explains how targeted ads work, why I received the ad and even what happens in the background to make this work.  Apparently, my status with Criteo is that I have an active cookie, I have not opted out and I have a cookie from Criteo.  What’s nice is that this page gives me the option to ‘opt-out’,  not just once, in a small print footer, but several times and in clearly visible large print.  Actually, the original link on the ad, the one that led me to this information, was also big, clear and prominent.  Criteo even gave me instructions on how to turn off third party cookies altogether, which would implicitely opt-me-out of most other targeted ad services as well.

I did not opt out, neither did I go and delete all my cookies.  I figure if Zappos and Criteo are honest about the information they have on me, give me a fair chance to opt-out and even teach me how to turn off third party cookies altogether, there is little harm in returning the favor with some limited and anonymous information about my browsing behaviour.

I ended up buying shoes online, not from Zappos, but I’ll, voluntary, continue to see their hard-to-ignore-ads.

Transparency pays off.

Further Reading:
Criteo Privacy Policy

14 thoughts on “Transparency pays off”

  1. Hello,

    Thanks for the great mention and blog post highlighting Criteo’s super transparent privacy policy and highly personalized relevant ads. Would you be willing to provide a testimonial? We would love to hear about your consumer experience.

    Meredith Orr
    MarCom Manager at Criteo

  2. Very disappointed that I am now being chased around the Internet by adverts that I picked up like a nasty disease following some simple browsing in a store.

    Meredith may be proud of her transparent privacy policy, but unless you are told as you browse the site that you are being targeted, it is irrelevant as far as I can see.

    If you would like this as a testimonial – I will be boycotting any company that uses this unwanted and intrusive form of marketing. Sorry Cafe Press – you have lost a customer.

  3. @ Coastin: I agree that it would be better to ask people to ‘opt-in’ instead of giving them the option to opt-out only after they get annoyed with the targeted ads. On the other hand, the internet provides us with a ton of great content for free. Often, the only source of income for content providers are the ads on their websites.

    @ Meredith: I appreciate the transparency, but targeted advertising still irks me a little. Privacy issues are a pet peeve and providing a testimonial would be a little too much endorsement.

  4. @Fred, regarding the opt-out: You can apparently choose to opt out of receiving the targeted ads from just one advertiser at a time, when their banner appears on a site that you are visiting. The little information link on the banner leads to a page that tells you if you so much as view the sellers’ site again, that will be taken as giving permission to start the tracking afresh.

    Rather a labourious way of opting out if you have visited several such sites – and certainly not permanent. I also checked the privacy policy of the online store in question and no mention is made of the use of cookies for targeted advertising – in fact, they seem to state that they will not do this!

  5. @ Coastin: As far as I can tell from Criteo’s privacy policy, they provide an opt-out cookie, which disables any Criteo targeted advertising. They also suggest turning of third party cookies altogether in order to disable ‘most’ targeted advertising. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s still better than nothing. Again, I agree that the online store that provides the cookie should clearly warn you about this and give you a chance to opt-out right then and there.
    Thanks for your comments, they are very much appreciated!

    @ Meredith: Any comments?

  6. You both make valid points. As Coastin said, free content on the Internet is funded by advertising and more specifically advertising that is relevant to its viewers. Criteo is 100% supportive of allowing viewers to control their advertising privacy settings.

    1. Actually Meredith, that was me (fred) who said that about content being funded by advertising. If Criteo is so supportive of allowing viewers to control their settings, wouldn’t it be better to make the targeting opt-in instead of opt-out?

  7. Indeed, Fred. It is interesting that, in order to opt out of Criteo’s unwanted advertising “service”, you have to install a cookie that they provide, so you have to permanently hold their cookie on your computer. No doubt, this cookie is still providing them with useful information. Delete your cookies regularly, which all sensible Web users do, and you lose your Criteo opt-out.

    Incidentally, I used to be with an ISP that started putting adverts on my home page – including irritating adverts that spread out over the whole page if you so much as hovered over them. These adverts used Phorm to allow them to be related to the web pages you viewed. Needless to say, I switched ISP ASAP. Meredith approves of the use of advertising to support free services, but I was getting adverts on a service that I was paying handsomely for – which I thoroughly object to! Her Criteo adverts were recently appearing on another website that had a subscription fee.

    1. As Coastin has pointed out: a big draw back of this system is that it depends on cookies, you probably deleted the ‘opt-out’ cookie. It’s very unfortunate that the technology to opt-out is so bare bones and that the whole thing is not ‘opt-in’ rather than opt-out.

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