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You probably have come across little triangle-shaped icons tucked in the corner of banner ads and, like 95% of people, have no idea what it’s for. Hell, I work¬†in advertising and if I didn’t look it up I¬†wouldn’t know.

It’s the icon for AdChoices, a program run by ad trade groups to allow people to opt out of personalized banner ad placements. Click on it, and the ads fed to your browser aren’t based on whatever tracking info Google, Yahoo and et al. have on you.

That doesn’t mean they’ll stop tracking you – only that the ads you see won’t be customized. Which raises the question: What’s the point? From a consumer standpoint, it’s hard to think of any significant reason to do so. You’re going to be tracked regardless. And as an ad creative, those little icons – with little thought apparently given to where the icon is (sometimes left, sometimes right) – are just ugly, pointless warts. Why does AdWords even exist?

The answer? Illusion. The consumer gets the illusion of control, and big advertisers get to present the illusion that they’re doing something. After all, AdChoices was created as the reponse to the FTC ‘suggesting’ that the industry start self-regulating, which means ‘do something that looks like you’re doing something, but don’t really do anything’.

But we are talking about advertising, so the fact that this is all based on pretending actually makes perfect sense.