[Android] Tip: Turn off “interest-based” ads by flipping a switch in Android Market

The most valuable advertising is targeted advertising. Targeted advertising is more valuable than non-targeted advertising because targeted ads are more relevant to the audience they are being shown to; targeted ads are more likely to get a response. Google (and all advertising agencies/professionals) know this. In fact, this is the reason why all advertisers like tracking users’ habits. The more an advertising agency knows about a user, the easier it is for it to display targeted ads to that user. On traditional computers Google uses tracking cookies to help with targeted advertising; users have the option to opt-out of these tracking cookies. Google also likes to place targeted ads on Android, but because of the app-centric focus of the mobile platform, users cannot opt-out of tracking cookies. Rather, there is a different way to opt-out of targeted advertising (called “interest-based ads” by Google) on Android.

How it works

Each Android phone has a unique device identifier. This unique device identifier cannot be changed. To “protect [user] privacy” Google does not use this unique device identifier to display ads; instead Google associates an “anonymous ID” with each device identifier, which is then used in the previously-mentioned targeted ads process. Google claims this method protects privacy because users can reset/change out of the anonymous ID. (While there is an on-going debate if this process truly does protect privacy and/or is truly anonymous, the point of this article isn’t to debate the anonymous-ness of Google’s advertising so I won’t go there.)

Using this anonymous ID, Google conducts market research (such as seeing what types of ads a user clicks). This research is used to display better targeted ads. For example, if I were to click on an ad about buying a laptop I am more likely to be shown laptop advertisements in the future. More detailed information about Google’s targeted ads on Android can be found here.

How to stop it

You could block ads on your phone. If, however, you don’t want to or cannot block ads, there is a very simple way to opt-out of being displayed “interest-based ads”, otherwise known as targeted advertisements:

  • Open Android Market.
  • Tap the Menu key on your phone and click on Settings:

  • At the Settings page, look at the bottom where it says “Receive interest-based ads”:

  • Uncheck the checkbox:

  • Done. There is no need to save anything. You can exit Android Market, if you wish, after you have unchecked the box.

Clarifications

Unchecking the box next to “Receive interest-based ads” will not block ads. If you want to block ads, use AdFree Android. Rather, unchecking the box makes it so you are no longer tracked using the anonymous ID, and therefore will no longer receive “relevant” ads. Also note this settings applies to Google and AdMob ads only; ads from other companies/agencies are independent of this setting.

Conclusion

Turning off “interest-based ads” always has a caveat: If you have to see ads, wouldn’t you must rather see ads that are semi-relevant to what you are interested in? In the end, the question of whether or not to turn off user tracking comes down to privacy vs convenience. Do you want to “protect your privacy” and not have Google track your habits? (I put protect your privacy in quotes because there is still continuous debate about how invasive ads are, in regards to privacy.) Or, do you not care if Google knows you like to watch pron what you like to do and would prefer the convenience of seeing semi-relevant ads? The answer to these questions is purely a personal one and isn’t something I can decide for you. Good luck.

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10 comments

  1. Jyo

    @Ashraf: Yup, that’s the one I got. There was never a free prepaid card, the final checkout always adds the $30 (unless they changed it again – then I’m mad!). Believe it or not, it was up for only $99 one day (refurbished of course), which I missed out on because it quickly sold out. Is that with contract from radioshack? Nevertheless, it’s been a good phone from my experience, worth the buy.

  2. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Jyo: Did you take advantage of the $30 free prepaid card + refurb Optimus T for $120? I kind of regret not taking advantage of that. However, right now I am looking at a brand new Optimus T from Radioshack for $134 for my dad.

  3. Jyo

    @Ashraf: As far as I can tell, all apps are working as they should; no glitches. But like I said, I just got it and haven’t had the chance to REALLY try all there is to do. The touch screen isn’t resistant, and brightness is nice. Mine is actually refurbished, which made it extra cheap, but I have no regrets at all. Where do you plan on buying it from?

  4. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Jyo: In the age of the smartphone, two days is amazing battery life; although I am sure turning off 3G helps it a lot. I can typically go a full day on my Nexus S with 3G depending on how much I use it.

  5. Jyo

    @Ashraf: It’s my first smartphone, but I have to say it is pretty darn awesome. Software-wise, everything is working as it should. Hardware is also decent, considering it is an entry-level phone. There aren’t many custom roms to choose from sadly, because I’m guessing this isn’t a very popular phone so developers don’t give a hoot. The only problem might be the battery life, which I usually get around 2 days with some usage (no 3G, just games and occasional wifi). Is this normal for smartphones? I hear some can’t even manage one day. Oh rooting it is pretty simple if you’re wondering (using z4root).

    I will end with this:
    If there’s one thing that technology needs improvement on, it’s battery life (across everything).