February 24, 2020

Advertising That Respects Privacy

Startpage Blog - Advertising that respects privacy

How contextual advertising is less invasive than behavioral advertising and how anyone can access information without the threat of retargeting ads.

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes or James Bond to find out a person’s secrets. You can learn a lot about someone simply by looking at the ads on their computer.

By examining the type of ads they receive, you might find out that “person x” is single, looking for a new job, and may currently have an easily curable itchy rash. How you ask? Because of behavioral advertising and retargeting ads.

Behavioral advertising is an accepted and common practice, as well as a lucrative business. Every search you make, the website you visit, or post you make on social media helps build your digital profile, which is used to target you online.

These platforms are behind the digital curtain, talking to each other about you via tracking. They collect information about you based on what you click on, where you go, what you buy, and what you talk about. They then get together and use all this valuable intel to help advertisers better target and re-target you with ads. Before you know it, you have ads following you around from site to site and device to device.

The solution? Contextual advertising.

What are contextual ads and behavioral ads?

These are the two main types of online advertising models:

  • Behavioral advertising is the method by which you are targeted with ads based on your personal data. In this instance, your personal data is being collected to create a profile on you. If you search for “board games” without any type of privacy protection, you will receive ads based on your search history, location, cookies, and any other online activity on your current or other devices. This means you may get a retargeted ad for the board game you looked at a week ago and decided not to buy. Or you may get an ad for the game you played with your friends last week that you posted about on Instagram.
  • Contextual advertising provides ads based on the keywords of the search only, not based on you personally. For example, if you search for “board games,” you’ll simply get ads for board games. The ads will be the same for everyone that searches for “board games,” regardless of who they are and what their online behavior is. While behavioral ads use personal data to determine what ads to show, contextual ads don’t need any more data than the keywords on the page in order to display ads.

You may be wondering if behavioral ads give more useful results and if so, then what’s so bad about them? The New York Times gives a pretty clear answer on the downsides of how behavioral ads can be used:

“They follow you around from website to mobile app based on your private information and, intentionally or not, enable online discrimination, manipulation and the creation of filter bubbles.”

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How does Startpage make money?

One question we’re often asked is, “How does Startpage make money?” It’s simple. Startpage generates its income from contextual advertising.

Each time you perform a search, you may see up to three sponsored search results at the top of the results page. These ads are labeled accordingly. Clicking a sponsored link will take you off the Startpage to an advertiser’s website.

While serving contextual ads is less profitable than serving behavioral ads, we feel it is a far more ethical model on which to build a company. A company, which has now been profitable for over 13 years.

Startpage CEO, Robert Beens says:

“at Startpage, we have no idea who or where you are, so you’re never being profiled and [you] receive the exact same non-biased search results as anyone else in the world. Furthermore, we protect you from the more widely publicized threats such as price trackers (that give some people higher prices on products), identity theft and personal data blackmail.”

Startpage blog - Robert Quote

From the start, we decided to build a model based on protecting your privacy. In the advent of GDPR and CCPA, we’re seeing more companies gravitate toward ethical advertising. Even Facebook is turning away from providing certain personal information to advertisers. AdAge notes “the ad industry is moving away from methods that rely on personal information to approaches using aggregated data sets that are considered less identifiable.” It’ll be interesting to see what online advertising looks like in 2025.

Your Data, Not Big Data

You may be wondering, what does this have to do with my experience? According to Digiday, consumers are the clear winners of data privacy first advertising “give[ing] consumers more choice and control over how their data is used, regardless of whether they decide to action that or not.”

Your personal data should remain yours. Fortunately, you can do a lot to protect your personal data from becoming Big Data. Through Startpage, the world’s most private search engine, you can search without sharing any of your personal data. We make money through contextual advertising and do not collect or store any information on you or your search. You can use “Anonymous View” to keep your privacy while you click on the search results and continue to browse the internet.

Privacy Pro Tip: Consider using a non-tracking search engine like Startpage and a VPN to keep your personal data secure. Using both of these tools simultaneously will prevent search queries from following you around the internet.

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