Giving consumers control over ads

In her post to the Official Google Blog this morning, Susan Wojcicki, VP of Product Management, announced that we are making interest-based advertising available in beta for our AdSense partner sites and YouTube. Interest-based advertising uses information about the web pages people visit to make the online ads they see more relevant. Relevant advertising, in turn, has fueled the content, products and services available on the Internet today.

Providing such advertising has proven to be a challenging policy issue for advertisers, publishers, internet companies and regulators over the last decade. On the one hand, well-tailored ads benefit consumers, advertisers, and publishers alike. On the other hand, the industry has long struggled with how to deliver relevant ads while respecting users' privacy.

Last month, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission released its principles for online advertising. Likewise, other organizations interested in consumer protection and privacy also recently issued guidelines: The Network Advertising Initiative released its 2008 Self-Regulatory Code of Conduct in December; the Center for Democracy and Technology released its Threshold Analysis for Online Advertising Practices in January; and the Internet Advertising Bureau in the U.K. announced its Good Practice Principles last week. There is a consistent message in all of these guidelines: Consumers need and deserve greater transparency and choice when it comes to online advertising.

As Google prepared to roll out interest-based advertising, we talked to many users, privacy advocates and government experts. By listening to them and by relying on the creativity of our engineers, we built a product that's not only consistent with industry groups' privacy principles, but also goes beyond their requirements. We are pleased that our launch of interest-based advertising includes innovative, consumer-friendly features to provide meaningful transparency and choice for our users:
  • Transparency in the right place and at the right time. When users see online ads today, they often don't know what information is being collected, who provided the ad, and sometimes who the advertiser is. We already clearly label most of the ads provided by Google on the AdSense partner network and on YouTube. With one click on the labels, users can get more information about how we serve ads, and the information we use to show ads. This year we will expand the range of ad formats and publishers that display labels that provide a way to learn more and make choices about Google's ad serving.
  • Meaningful, granular, and user-friendly choice. For the first time, people will have a say in the types of ads they see by using our new Ads Preferences Manager. With this tool, users can view, add and remove the categories that are used to show them interest-based ads (sports, travel, cooking, etc.) when they visit one of our AdSense partners' websites or YouTube. To provide greater privacy protections to users, we will not serve interest-based ads based on sensitive interest categories. For example, we don’t have health status interest categories or interest categories designed for children.
  • Tools that respect users’ choices. With one click in the Ads Preferences Manager or in the advertising section of our Privacy Center, users can opt out of interest-based ads altogether, although it means they will probably see advertising that's less relevant and useful on our partners' websites or YouTube. The opt-out is achieved by attaching an "opt-out cookie" — a small file containing a string of characters that stores a preference for opting out — to a user's browser. Opt-out cookies in the industry, however, have traditionally not been permanent. So Google's engineers also developed tools to make our opt-out cookie permanent, even when users clear other cookies from their browsers.
  • Transparency beyond privacy policies. With interest-based advertising, we’re continuing to explore new ways of communicating with our users on privacy. We've revamped the advertising section of our Privacy Center. And the Ads Preferences Manager features a video, embedded below, that explains in plain language how interest-based advertising works. All of the videos on the Google Privacy Channel on YouTube are open for comment and we look forward to hearing feedback from our users.

We’ve built our business by earning and keeping the trust of our users. And we’ll continue our dialogue with them and with other stakeholders as we develop new products to make the ads we show our users more relevant and useful.