Interest-based advertising is a double-edged sword

Your personal preferences are no longer personal.

In today’s online marketing environment, once you begin pricing that pair of green sneakers, those sneakers follow you around from site to site. In some cases, those sneakers continue trailing you even after you’ve purchased them.

Online retailers have learned the value of interest-based advertising. As your shopping habits are noted by your favorite online stores, they use the information to target you continuously with their ads for the specific products they know you prefer.

Your browsing habits are also reflective of your interests and retailers use algorithms based on them to predict what you may be more inclined to purchase. It all adds up to an effective technique called interest-based advertising.

The Better Business Bureau thinks this technique has both pros and cons for digital consumers.

Consumer advantages

▪ Less irrelevant ads: When ads are selected specifically for you, then you are less likely to be bombarded with sales pitches for unwanted products. You see more of what interests you.

▪ Real-time deals: Because many of us are rarely without our smartphones, companies can easily contact us, alerting us of deals in real time. Whether it’s a flash sale at a local business, a convenient coupon or perhaps a notice about free coffee at a local cafe, offers come quickly and can be responded to instantly.

▪ Price reductions: Consumers sometimes look at an item online and put it into their virtual shopping cart, then decide not to purchase immediately. That item may get a price reduction from the merchant in an attempt to lure you into completing the deal, and the new price can be sent to you quickly on your smartphone, laptop or tablet.

Privacy concerns

The main downside to interest-based advertising as far as consumers are concerned centers on privacy issues.

For those who value their anonymity when doing digital window-shopping, there is a loss of privacy with this form of advertising. In our age of heightened identity theft consciousness, that can be an unwanted intrusion.

A recent poll found that 91 percent of respondents said they would not do business with companies that they do not believe work to protect their privacy.

Opting out

Search engines offer users fairly simple ways of opting out of personalized ads if they choose to.

Google, for instance, allows users to go to their “Ads Settings” function where there is a category called “Ads Personalization.” They may then click “Turn off.”

Whatever your choice of search engine, you can do a search for “turning off personalized ads” to find out specifically how to customize your settings so those interest-based ads will not follow you all over the internet.

For those who like the convenience of quickly finding deals on favored items, leave your settings as they are. Those green sneakers are just a few clicks away.

Denise Groene is state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Contact the BBB at 800-856-2417 or bbbinc.org.