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.
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.