What Is Online Behavioral Advertising?

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  • Written By: Alex Newth
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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When a company uses information gathered from a computer user's preferences to tailor specific advertisements to the user, it is considered online behavioral advertising. The information is collected via the Internet when the user searches websites. Users are then shown ads that match their previous searches, making the ads targeted and generally more successful. Behavioral advertising has been successful specifically because it matches ads to what the user is looking for, but some users consider this an invasion of privacy. Network advertising is similar to behavioral advertising, but on a much larger scale.

Online behavioral advertising works on the premise that when a consumer accesses a company’s website or a website attached to a network, he or she will search for specific information. Information about those searches can be collected by the website using a variety of means. Two of the most popular methods of collecting information about a user are by using computer cookies and by creating a database with Internet protocol (IP) and media access control (MAC) addresses that are then associated with the data collected.

As the information is gathered into the databases, scripting from the Web servers fill advertising space with advertisements similar to the user’s previous queries. For example, if a user did a search for a specific college, the Web server might display banners and links to that college. If there are no ads that specifically match the search, then similar ads — perhaps for nearby colleges or distance-learning programs — will be displayed.


Online behavioral advertising has been a successful online advertising method. This is because it targets Internet users and provides them with advertisements they are more likely to click on, rather than bombarding them with random advertisements that have only a slim chance of being clicked. Some consumers, however, do not see it as an advantage. Instead, they feel that collecting information about their online searches and activities is an infringement of their privacy. Computer users who want to avoid online behavioral advertising should check a website’s terms of service or privacy section for details on whether thee particular website collects such information.

Network advertising works on the same principles as online behavioral advertising, but on a larger scale. Many websites can be run on the same network or server. When a user does a search or accesses a section of one website, advertisements of a similar nature will be sent to the user whenever he or she accesses another website on the same network or server. If the advertisement online appears on a single website, and not an entire network, it is referred to as on-site advertising.


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