Few Google Users Are Opting Out of Behavioral Targeting

Nine months ago, when Google first introduced behavioral ad targeting, it also rolled out an ad preferences manager. The page allows Web site visitors to edit their advertising interest categories — for instance confirm an interest in cars or entertainment — or to opt out of behavioral targeting altogether.

As it turns out, relatively few users visit the page, and among those who do only a small fraction opt out, according to Google. The finding suggests that those who seek out the page are predominantly comfortable with Google’s behavioral ad practices.

Each week, tens of thousands of individuals navigate to the page, according to Nicole Wong, Google deputy general counsel. Of those who visit, she said four times as many people edit their targeting profile as opt out of targeting completely.

Perhaps more telling, the number of people who take no action at all is 10 times higher than the number who opt out of ad targeting. Most people click through to the page either through a display ad on the Google content network or through the recently launched Google accounts dashboard.

“A good percentage of users are saying they’d rather control [behavioral targeting] than opt out,” said Wong.

A rough calculation suggests that at the most, about 6,600 of Google’s users are opting out of ad targeting per week. The figure is based on a generous estimate that the site captures 99,000 visitors on an average week — the most possible if the site is indeed capturing tens of thousands yet not more than 100,000 visitors, as Google indicated to ClickZ. Under this estimate:

6,600 (number of users opting out)
x 4 = 26,400 (number of users editing preferences)
x 10 = 66,000 (number of users taking no action)
The sum of those three is 99,000 — again, the maximum number of weekly visitors to page, according to Google.

When Google launched its ad preferences page in March, it was not the first to let Web site visitors excuse themselves from behavior-based ad targeting. The Network Advertising Initiative has for years offered that option on its Web site. Individuals opting out through the NAI will find themselves excluded from behavioral targeting on all NAI member sites and ad networks — including AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, ValueClick, AudienceScience, BlueKai, and Google.

Just last week, Yahoo introduced a behavioral ad preferences manager of its own, allowing users to control targeting categories and opt out, just as Google’s system does.

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