Google enables permanent opt-outs from ad-tracking cookies

25 Jan 2011

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Google has made permanent opt-outs from ad-tracking cookies available via an extension for download in its Chrome browser. The move is an early response to increasing regulatory interest in a ‘Do Not Track’ mechanism to opt out of personalised advertising.

Google product managers Sean Harvey and Rajas Moonka said more than 50 companies that are members of the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) – including the top 15 largest ad networks in the US – already let you opt out of tracking for the purposes of personalising advertisements.

However, they say the industry has faced a recurring technical challenge with these opt-outs and controls.

“If you clear your browser’s cookies, all customised settings — including these opt-outs — are lost. Another challenge is that sometimes new companies offer opt-outs, so you’d have to check frequently to make sure you’re opted out of what you want,” Harvey explained.

“A better ‘Do Not Track’ mechanism is a browser extension that means you can easily opt out of personalised advertising from all participating ad networks only once and store that setting permanently.”

Google said that two years ago the company engineered a solution for Google’s ad system that was made available for all major browsers that consisted of a downloadable browser plugin that enables you to permanently opt out of Google’s advertising cookie, even if you deleted all your browser’s cookies.

The company has also built granular cookie controls into Chrome directly, and integrated Adobe Flash Player storage management into these controls.

“We’ve also modified Chrome’s incognito mode to ensure that it applies to ‘Flash cookies’ in addition to regular cookies,” Moonka said.

Permanently opt-out

The latest Chrome browser extension allows users to to permanently opt out of ad tracking from all companies that offer opt-outs through the industry self-regulation programs.

“Keep in mind that once you install the Keep My Opt-Outs extension, your experience of online ads may change: You may see the same ads repeatedly on particular websites, or see ads that are less relevant to you.

“Importantly, we’ve designed the extension so that it should not otherwise interfere with your web browsing experience or website functionality. This new feature gives you significant control without compromising the revenue that fuels the web content that we all consume every day.”

Google says it is working on making the new feature available to other browsers, too.

“We’ve also decided to make the code for this extension available on an open-source basis, so that other developers can let us know if there’s a bug, or even extend the code’s capabilities if they want to,” Google said.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com