AOL to let users block targeted Web ads


NEW YORK -- Time Warner Inc's AOL Internet division said Wednesday that it would let users opt out of online advertisements that are presented to individuals based on the Web sites they have visited.

Such behaviorally targeted ads use "cookies," information that identifies a computer, to keep track of where the user has visited online and send that person commercial messages accordingly.

Internet publishers say this system lets users get ads for products they may be interested in rather than sending useless information, but consumer advocates say it is yet another potential violation of privacy online.

AOL's program will point consumers to the right place to block such ads. Choosing to opt out sends a cookie to a user's computer that blocks the ads from appearing. AOL's system prevents the deletion of the opt-out cookie.

The program will also send "millions" of public service banner ads explaining the policy across the company's own Web sites and on those in which it sells ads.

"Our goal with this program is to engender greater trust for targeted advertising by communicating with consumers in a more visible way, and by providing them more information about their choices," AOL executive vp Curt Viebranz said in a statement.

AOL this year purchased behavioral targeting company Tacoda, which developed the opt-out technology.

The announcement comes ahead of a U.S. Federal Trade Commission meeting starting on Thursday to address issues stemming from the tracking of consumer activities on the Internet.

Consumers seeking to learn more can also visit the Web site of a consortium of online marketing companies, the Network Advertising Initiative, at