Users who don't want to be tracked via Flash cookies also can delete those cookies -- though doing so isn't as easy as deleting HTML cookies.
But even the most tech-savvy users might be stymied by some of the newer, harder-to-control tracking technologies. Two years ago, NebuAd began purchasing data directly from people's broadband providers. While the company said users could opt out of its online behavioral advertising program, it's since come to light that some ISPs that tested the system never gave subscribers that opportunity.
Now, the company ClearSight Interactive is getting ready to launch a form of targeting based on users' IP addresses. ClearSight, which describes IP addresses as the bridge between users' offline and online data, has spent the last 18 months acquiring more than 100 million IP addresses -- along with email addresses and postal addresses -- from publishers. As of today, ClearSight Interactive believes it has collected enough data from publishers to reliably link 65 million "sticky" IP addresses -- typically for people who connect to the Web using cable modems -- to specific individuals, ClearSight president Tim Daly told MediaPost today during a break at the OMMA Behavioral conference.
The publishers collect a host of data from customers -- including their IP addresses -- when they register, says ClearSight . Generally, publishers ask customers if they are willing to share information about themselves with third-party marketers. If they check the box indicating yes, the publishers pass along their names, email addresses and other information -- including the IP address logged at the time. While some of those IP addresses are from work addresses, libraries, etc., others are from users' homes.
ClearSight Interactive, which hopes to launch in the next four to six weeks, intends to serve ads to visitors whom they can identify based on their IP addresses. The company's model involves working with ad networks -- who would get the IP addresses dynamically from publishers, and then serve ads to specific addresses.
For now, the plan is to target those users only by their neighborhoods (ZIP-codes plus-four) but not to append other data about individual users to the IP addresses. Not yet, anyway. CEO Tom Alison says the company will first wait to see what happens in Congress, where Rep. Rick Boucher (D. Va.) has vowed to introduce privacy legislation.
Alison also makes the debatable claim that users have opted in by agreeing to let publishers share data with third parties. But this position seems to distort the meaning of opt-in, considering that users almost certainly believe they're signing up to receive emails from third parties when they give publishers permission to share data. Surely it hasn't crossed many Web users' minds that a publisher would share its IP logs with a third-party targeting company.
Alison also says that people who have previously opted in also can opt out at the publishers' sites. Again, however, if users don't realize that someone has passed along their IP address for targeting purposes, it won't occur to them to opt out.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau has devoted enormous resources to lobbying against regulation of online ad targeting. The IAB, and other ad groups, argue that the industry can on its own ensure that companies notify users about ad targeting and allow them to opt out.
But when companies continue to push the envelop on targeting -- or on fundamental matters like the meaning of opt-in -- calls for new regulations will only grow stronger.