Below is a list of frequently asked questions to help you understand interest-based advertising.
1. What is interest-based advertising?
Interest-based advertising (or online behavioural advertising) is a way of using information about your web browsing activity to group you with other users into interest groups and serve you advertisements based upon these interests.
Interest-based advertising differs from other forms of advertising on the internet such as contextual advertising, which is provided in response to your current, web session-based activities (including search queries or websites visited). Relevant ads can also be delivered based upon the website content you have just been viewing. This is known as ‘retargeting’.
2. How does interest-based advertising work?
There are different ways to provide interest-based advertising. At a basic level, information about your web browsing activity – together with information about thousands of other users’ browsing – is collected and segmented into general groups, such as cars, finance, travel, etc. An interest profile (for example – “cars”) is inferred from data about the sites or apps you have visited and a file known as a cookie – or similar technology (check out our jargon buster), is often placed on your computer/device, to identify you as someone interest in the category “cars”. Advertisers and websites will tailor adverts for groups of users with the same interest and the cookie enables such relevant display advertising to be delivered to you.
3. What data are used?
interest-based advertising can vary in terms of what information is used and how. Traditional advertising networks, for example, collect and use information when you visit one or a number of websites participating in that particular network. This is information such as the website content that you visit, keyword searches that you make and ads that you may interact with. Each business will provide you with more detail about information that they collect and use and this will be available by clicking on the AdChoices Icon that is in the ads that you may see on websites.
4. What are the benefits?
You receive online display advertising that is relevant to you and your interests. For example, if you’re interest in gardening and visit gardening websites, you may – in the same or a later online browsing session – receive advertising for special offers on gardening-related items such as lawnmowers.
Though the preference is always your own, many people consider that tailored advertising is beneficial as you’ll receive more relevant adverts as well as access to quality content, services and applications at little or no cost. It is also beneficial to advertisers as they are able to reach the audience that is most likely to be interest in their information, leaving out those who are not likely to be interest. It is also beneficial for websites (web publishers) as advertising allows them to continue to provide content at little or no cost and make that advertising more relevant to their users. This advertising revenue helps to fund future innovations and services on the internet.
5. Isn’t this a threat to my privacy?
The EU Good Practice Principles were specifically designed to help safeguard your privacy when receiving or interacting with online advertisements. You always have a choice as to whether you wish to benefit from this type of advertising or not. More relevant advertising needs a little bit of information about your interests, otherwise it cannot work but we acknowledge that people may be uncomfortable with this. If so, you can turn off Interest-based advertising here. You can also manage your settings within the web browser that you are using. Visit our five top tips to see how to do this. Many web browsers have a ‘private browsing’ mode as well, though this does not always mean the same thing across different browsers and the terminology may be different, so we recommend checking within your preferred browser what functionalities this type of service enables (or disables).
6. What can I do if I don’t want this type of advertising?
You can opt out here. You can also manage your settings within the web browser that you are using. Visit our top tips to see how to do this. Many web browsers also have a ‘private browsing’ mode as well, though this does not always mean the same thing across different browsers and the terminology may be different, so we recommend checking within your preferred browser what functionalities this type of service enables (or disables).
It is important to remember that turning off interest-based advertising does not mean that you will no longer receive advertising when you are using the internet. It just means that the advertising you see displayed on websites and apps will not be tailored to your interests and therefore may be less relevant to you.
7. Does interest-based advertising mean I will see more advertising?
No. It simply means that the advertising you do see on some websites and apps will be more relevant to your interests. This type of advertising on the internet helps to ensure that a wide variety of online content and services can be provided, often available at little or no cost.
8. Will my online experience be disrupted by interest-based advertising?
No. You will not see or experience any difference when online. Interest-based advertising simply aims to make the advertising you see on websites and apps more relevant to you.
9. Will interest-based advertising be directed at children?
The EU Good Practice Principles have a specific commitment that no business shall create or sell an interest or audience segment intended for the sole purpose of behaviourally advertising to children they know to be under the age of 13 years, in accordance with GDPR requirements.
10. What is this EU Good Practice and how is it relevant to me?
The EU Good Practice Principles are guidelines for businesses collecting and using online information for interest-based advertising. The aim is to provide you with transparent information and control over this type of advertising. At the heart of the Principles is a symbol or icon (known as the “AdChoices Icon”) that appears in advertisements on websites and apps to provide you with this information and control. You can find out more about this icon in our five top tips.
11. How do I know businesses that have signed up are complying with these Principles?
Businesses that have signed up to the EU Good Practice have to go through an independent verification process to show that they are fully compliant. To demonstrate this, businesses are awarded a ‘trust seal’. You can see which businesses have achieved this here. The seal below is also displayed alongside the company name on the preference platform.
12. Does this EU Good Practice cover mobile and tablet devices?
You may come across the AdChoices Icon when using mobile or tablet devices. Indeed, the EU Good Practice is fully applicable to mobile and tablet devices, and has been adapted to the different ad-serving technologies involved on these platforms to ensure that you benefit from similar levels of transparency and control and the ability to manage your online advertising preferences and experience.
13. Will any software be downloaded on my computer?
No. Interest-based advertising does not require to download any software and will not significantly affect your internet speed or connection either.
14. What is a ‘cookie’ and how is it used?
A cookie is a small file of letters and numbers downloaded on your computer when you access certain websites. Cookies allow a website to recognise a user’s preferences as previously chosen by the user when they return to a site.
Cookies are filed in the memory of your browser and each one typically contains:
– The name of the server the cookie was sent from
– The lifetime of the cookie
– A value – usually, for purposes of data-driven advertising, a randomly generated unique number
The website server which sends the cookie uses this number to recognise you when you return to a site or browse from page to page. Only the server that sent a cookie can read, and therefore use, that cookie. Cookies are central – some even necessary – to the customisation of the internet and interest-based advertising usually works using cookies. Please note: cookies are used for other purposes as well, and not just advertising.
The internet is a rapid platform of innovation and cookies may not be the only technology used for collection and use of data which may inform advertising practices. For instance, alternative methods might be used, such as device or browser fingerprinting, and an explanation of this can be found in our jargon buster.
15. Can I disable a cookie?
Yes. Some browsers will let you block third party cookies (this is a cookie placed on your browser by a third party – for example, an advertising network – other than that particular website owner) or will allow the use of settings to block only cookies that do not meet your privacy preferences.
You can choose to disable all cookies (except necessary first party cookies which cannot be disabled) but this could significantly affect your web browsing experience if you use services that rely on cookies. Visit our five top tips to find out more about managing your web browser privacy settings.
16. Will I have to opt-out if I use a different PC at work?
Yes. If you choose to decline interest-based advertising from a specific company, it only applies to that particular company’s data collection and use on the internet web browser on the computer or device you are using. It will therefore affect other people who use that web browser as well. Y ou will need to follow the same process on every computer, mobile or tablet you use or different web browser (eg internet explorer, google chrome, Mozilla firefox or safari) that you use to fully decline interest-based advertising from that particular provider. For more information about opting out please visit our opt-out help page.
17. If I have set up my web browser to automatically delete cookies when I close it (or I do this manually) will this affect the performance of the opt out page?
Yes. The opt out page currently works by each business listed setting an opt out ‘cookie’, effectively saying ‘do not serve Interest-based advertising’. If you delete cookies at the web browser level you will need to revisit the page to set your preference. We are working on a solution to make this more effective and to ensure your preference is permanent. Please note that managing cookies at the web browser level also provides a way for you to indicate your online privacy preferences.
18. If I have privacy or ad blocking software installed on my computer will this affect the performance of the opt out page?
It may do although the software itself may provide you with a high level of privacy already.
19. Does refusing interest-based advertising prevent me from receiving spam, pop-ups or junk mail?
No. Refusing interest-based advertising only means that you will not receive more display advertising customised in this way. It does not affect or disable any other particular type of advertising e.g. contextual, random, email or pop-ups.
20. Where can I learn more?
Across this website we have developed content and materials to help keep you informed about advertising techniques and practices online, and how to manage your online experience. For instance, you could check out our five top tips. From time to time, we may also develop awareness campaigns and other activities including research and educational initiatives, to help European citizens understand the data-driven digital advertising ecosystem.
21. I wish to make a formal complaint. How do I do this?
Please visit our complaints page. Where possible, we have partnered with national advertising standards bodies to provide a helpful experience should you wish to complain about any matter related to interest-based advertising (for instance, if you believe that a company has not implemented your preferences).
If you do not wish to submit a complaint but wish to provide any feedback or suggestions about this website, please feel free to send this to us via our contact form.