While it has come across my radar before, a colleague of mine at the Forschungsstelle für Verbraucherrecht reminded me today of a pretty handy, though perhaps under-utilised, tool for digital consumers, namely the website www.YourOnlineChoices.com “A Guide to Behavioural Advertising”. The front page offers a wide range of different countries and languages to choose from (including Romansch, though not Irish… even though the latter is an official language of the EU, but the former not), and this cheery message:
Welcome to a guide to online behavioural advertising and online privacy.
On this website you’ll find information about how behavioural advertising works, further information about cookies and the steps you can take to protect your privacy on the internet.
This website is written and funded by the internet advertising industry and supports a pan-European industry initiative to enhance transparency and control for online behavioural advertising.
This is part of a self-regulatory move by the European advertising industry to develop a set of good practice principles that businesses should follow, such as businesses being transparent about the information that is collected and used and providing consumers with control. One of their examples is a new icon appearing in the advertisements you may see on websites.
But the real core of this initiative, and most likely the tool which will interest most digital consumers, is the ability to control the data advertisers gather on you for marketing purposes – the Your Ad Choices tool – allowing consumers to selectively allow or block certain companies from gathering and using their data. Now, this is by far not a perfect system, and their are some issues regarding actually being able to block certain companies, as they often seem to be encountering some form of technical difficulties, but all in all, this is a helpful addition to the arsenal of consumer protection measures which are already out there.
In case you are wondering what other measures might in fact be hiding out there, waiting for their usefulness to be discovered, I can heartily recommend a few, such as:
- Ad blockers are a must, such as AdBlock Plus, AdBlock, Ghostery and of course the Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s (EFF) HTTPS Everywhere, allowing you to selectively allow advertisements on websites you trust or want to support (remember, blocking ads reduced the website’s ad revenue),
- A decent security suite which also contains browsing protection such as AVG’s Do Not Track, Avast! Online Security or even go large with Kapersky Internet Security,
- For the (even) more privacy conscious of you, there is also the option of looking at one of the browsers geared specifically towards privacy and security,
The YourOnlineChoices website contains a number of other handy resources such as a Jargon Buster, FAQ, a comprehensive guide you can download, as well as helpful steps for making a complaint. They are also working on a browser extension, which is still in the Beta stage, but well worth a look.
For the more legally nerdy amongst you, you also find some finer details on the service and the European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance (EDAA) on their terms and conditions page.