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Yahoo exec: Peek into your ad profile

Yahoo's Jeff Weiner talks at a social-media confab about an open system that lets people see why the company targets a specific advertisement to them.

LOS ANGELES--Curious about why you're getting that Dog Chow advertisement every time you visit Yahoo Finance? One day you might be able right-click the ad to read your marketing-profile dossier.

That's at least the vision of Jeff Weiner, executive vice president of Yahoo's Network Division, which means he's in charge of groups like entertainment, search, and news.

"I could envision an icon that appears when you see an ad, and if you were to click through that icon, you would see the data we're leveraging...If we've got it wrong, you can tell us or you could turn it off," Weiner said here Tuesday at the second annual Economics of Social Media conference.

Jeff Weiner, right, during an interview at the Economics of Social Media conference. ContentNext

His ears must have been burning. Earlier in the day at the conference, Toni Schneider, the CEO of Wordpress-creator Automattic, had said that while he was working for Yahoo three years before, the company had developed an internal system that allowed employees to see the background data used to deliver a targeted ad to a Yahoo user. At the time, Schneider suggested that Yahoo open that system up to users, but the company shot down the idea.

"They were appalled," he said during a panel on online start-ups.

Weiner said after his talk that someone had mentioned Schneider's comments to him. And although it's not a product immediately in the offing, he said Yahoo is much more open to those kinds of projects now. Someone in the industry will do it, he said, and he hopes that Yahoo will be first.

Still, it's not a new idea. For years, privacy advocates have called for similar open systems that hold people's advertising profiles on sites like Yahoo, Google, and Doubleclick--without success.

But Yahoo is already inching in that direction. Later this year, the company will introduce in beta a universal profile for all of its users. Under the plan, it will unify all profiles for users and developers across products like Yahoo Mail, Address Book, Flickr, and Groups so that people have a single log-on. (Weiner admitted that the company has almost a hundred different log-on experiences for its users.)

The idea is that with a single profile, Yahoo will cinch together a social graph for an individual across the network. "We're fragmenting extremely valuable data," said Weiner.

When asked who owns that data, Weiner answered that it would be the user.

"It's going to be very difficult going forward as an industry to limit users (access to information)," he said. "Companies are going to increasingly have to be transparent," Weiner said.