Take care with ad networks

Advertisers increasingly not only know who you are but what you buy and how you’ll vote. Today’s Wall Street Journal details how online tracking company RapLeaf Inc. accumulates personally identifying information about online users and sells the data to advertisers. Their goal is to serve up personalized ads when you visit various websites.

Behavioral advertising is getting attention lately because journalists found advertisers are telling web visitors one thing and doing the opposite. Most advertiser policies seem to forbid the transmission of personally identifying information–Facebook IDs or other data that could allow aggregators to piece together a picture of your life from financial and other records. The Journal found RapLeaf violated that policy. RapLeaf says it has since corrected the problem.

The scope of the issue is staggering. Counting RapLeaf there are 63 major advertising networks that collect data on users and sell it to advertisers.

Advertising is not the enemy, and we’re not against the online version. Marketers need a way to cut through the clutter; delivering relevant ads is one way to do that. And some online visitors may genuinely want to see ads that relate to their buying habits. But if you see behavioral advertising as intrusive, you can opt out of RapLeaf alone or the other 62 advertising networks from the Network Advertising Initiative page.