Yahoo Expands Opt-Outs, Critics Unimpressed

Yahoo is telling lawmakers it will allow Web users to opt out of receiving ads targeted based on their browsing history by the end of the month. With the move, people will be able to decline to receive targeted ads at Yahoo's owned and operated network of sites.

In an Aug. 7 letter to Reps. John Dingell, Ed Markey, Joe Barton and Cliff Stearns, Yahoo described its new policy as an "expansion" of the previous policy, which allowed users to decline receiving targeted ads on some non-Yahoo sites.

But this concession clearly isn't satisfying digital rights advocates. "From a privacy perspective, that just doesn't do it," Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg tells MediaPost. Rotenberg, like other privacy advocates, argues that companies shouldn't deploy behavioral targeting unless Web users have explicitly consented.

Yahoo -- like most other companies involved with behavioral targeting -- is still using an opt-out model. It's clear why Yahoo wants to press forward with this type of system; Web companies overall have very little to lose with opt-outs, because few people have the time or patience to read privacy policies, much less follow the opt-out instructions. In fact, Yahoo told Congress that only 75,000 users visited its opt-out page last month. The company said it didn't know how many of them had actually declined to receive targeted ads.



What's more, Yahoo still retains a trove of data about people's Web-surfing history, including users' IP addresses and search queries. Search histories alone remain in the system for up to 13 months. Yahoo retains other data for varying lengths of time.

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