Yahoo Launches Ad-Control Tool as Fed Regulators Loom

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Yahoo today introduced a tool that gives users control over the advertisements they are exposed to through the company’s ad network. And with federal regulators taking a hard look at targeted online ads, the timing couldn’t be better. Ad Interest Manager, which launched today in beta, enables people to access a brief history of their Yahoo activity and determine their interest in specific type of ads; users can also opt not to receive interest-based ads from Yahoo entirely.

Visiting Yahoo’s Ad Interest Manager can be disconcerting at first: In addition to informing users just how much interest they have in specific topics on Yahoo pages, it discloses information such as a consumer’s age range, gender and location, as well the person’s OS, browser and IP address. It’s likely that many users would be uncomfortable seeing that Yahoo is tracking such data — and using it to present targeted ads — but it is a bold step in giving consumers more visibility into the murky space.

The offering comes in response to user demand for increased visibility and control regarding targeted ads, Yahoo executive Anne Toth said, and has been developed over the last year. But Yahoo also chose to introduce the feature on the opening day of the Federal Trade Commission’s “Exploring Privacy: A Roundtable Series,” which is being held in Washington. The meeting will discuss topics including behavioral targeting, consumer expectations and disclosures, and the benefits and risks of collecting and using consumer data. (See the meeting’s agenda here.)

The FTC hearing follows September’s move by an alliance of 10 consumer groups to ask the House Commerce Committee — which is drafting an online privacy bill — to consider stringent regulations aimed at curving behavioral advertising and using sensitive consumer information. The consortium is pushing an opt-in clause whereby a web site must get consumers’ permission to share their data beyond a 24-hour period as well as a requirement that user information be purged after 90 days.

Yahoo’s Ad Interest Manager may initially be off-putting, but it’s likely to resonate among consumers who typically have little insight or control regarding how ads are targeted and delivered online. And that’s a good move for an industry that’s increasingly fearful of governmental regulation.

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