Internet Advertising: Your choice through ad choices

Why do I receive ads on the Internet and why do some seem relevant while others seem random?

Online advertising supports the free content and services you use on the Internet. Some ads you receive are personalized, based on the web sites you have visited online. This is called interest-based advertising, targeted, or behavioral advertising.

For example, a sporting goods manufacturer might work with an advertising network to deliver ads to consumers who have recently visited sports-related sites. An airline might direct ads to consumers who recently visited travel-themed Web sites.

How does it work?

When you visit particular websites, information is gathered and stored in your browser with the help of small text files called web "cookies." By using this information, advertising services providers predict your interests and determine which ads may be most relevant to serve you next.

Are advertisers selling my info? Could I get my ID stolen?

Since online behavioral advertising uses profiles based on web viewing habits, the information collected and used in this process is not personally identifiable.  Businesses that collect and use data for this type of advertising do not have access to your personal information.  However, since even your non-identifiable profile is valuable to advertisers, it is often transferred to businesses that help to provide interest-based ads.

Do I have a choice about interest-based advertising?

While many people like receiving relevant ads, some consumers prefer not to have their interests reflected in the ads they receive online.  To give you a better understanding of how interest-based advertising works and to let you control whether or not you receive interest-based ads, industry created the AdChoices Program.  The BBB enforces the Program to make sure that all companies provide you with notice that they are collecting and using your web browsing and to provide you with choice.

How do I exercise my choice?

You have several options:

 The AdChoice icon


  1. When you see an advertisement that carries the above icon or AdChoices message, you can click on the icon or AdChoices message to learn more about the ad and how to opt-out from future collection and use of your web browsing data for interest-based advertising.
  2. You can visit the AboutAds consumer choice page to see a list of businesses that collect and use data for OBA purposes and opt out of some or all on the list.
  3. You can set preferences on some Web browsers that enable you to control the delivery of cookies to your computer.  See here for assistance with your specific browser

How can the BBB help me exercise my choice?

Leading industry associations have joined together to apply standards to OBA practices across the Internet. BBB’s Online Interest-Based Advertising Initiative enforces these standards. You can learn more about the seven principles here.  

If you believe a business is following your online browsing history and serving you ads based on that information without giving you notice and choice through the icon or the AdChoices message, we encourage you to fill out our easy-to-use online report form.   The more information you can give us, the better able we will be to act on your report.  If you can capture screen shots related to your report, you can send them as attachments to your report or by separate email.

Be sure to use the same email address that you list on our report form.  If you do not know how to upload screen shots and send them as email attachments, you can fax the screen shots to The Council of Better Business Bureaus at 703.525.8277, attention Online Interest-Based Accountability Program.