TORONTO - Canadians who get spooked every time they see online advertisements that seem to be based on their web browsing history now have a tool available to stop some of the snooping ads.
The Digital Advertising Alliance Of Canada has launched youradchoices.ca, which allows web users to opt out of so-called behavioural advertising.
Behavioural advertising is typically based on web browser "cookies" — small files that get dropped on your computer with information about browsing history and habits. Advertisers can read those cookies and serve up product pitches that are targeted to individual web surfers.
Digital Advertising Alliance Of Canada chairman Bob Reaume said he's pushing for the industry to use the term "interest-based advertising" instead, since behavioural advertising has negative connotations attached to it.
"It sounds so sneaky and evil, and interest-based advertising is really what we're doing, we're just inferring what products and services a consumer might be interested in and we're serving ads for those products and services," he said.
"It's our hope that consumers will get the point that this is making advertising more relevant for them. Surely if there are consumers who find this objectionable then it's their absolute right and option to opt out of this type of advertising."
The opt-out tool currently stops consumers from receiving behavioural ads from 115 ad agencies, ad networks and companies that are participating in the program. Behavioural ads paid for by those companies will soon be marked with a blue triangle-shaped icon, which will link to more information about the new opt-out system.
But unmarked behavioural ads may still be pushed to consumers by companies not affiliated with the voluntary program.
"We hope the program will be ubiquitous in a couple of years but who knows, we don't have legislative force to make people do this," Reaume said.
And opting out of behavioural ads isn't the same as opting out of advertising in general, he added.
"They'll still receive random advertisements. Advertising will still be served everywhere on the Internet because that's what pays for the content," he said.
Privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart had been calling for a Canadian opt-out system, similar to the one that was first launched in the U.S., since 2011. Last summer, industry leaders said they expected it would be implemented within a few months.
"It was an incredibly complicated thing to get up and running," said Reaume about the delay.
"We wanted to be sure that we did this right, we didn't want to turn on the program and then find we perhaps didn't think of something or ran into errors. You still expect a few blips here or there but we were cautious and we wanted to be sure we did it right before we turned on the switch."
Stoddart's office released the results of a survey earlier this year suggesting Canadians want more disclosure about how their data is being used by marketers.
About 92 per cent of those polled said Internet companies should be required to ask permission before tracking users online. About 81 per cent wanted companies to specify what data they collect and how it's used.
Websites typically do declare that users will have their actions logged while surfing but the disclosures are often buried in the rarely-read privacy policies or terms and conditions.