Industry Coalition Debuts Friendly 'Hi, You Are Being Targeted' Logo
As expected, a coalition of ad industry groups have agreed on a uniform online icon aimed at letting Web users know when they are seeing ads based on Web-surfing activity.
The move, announced Wednesday, is part of the industry's attempts to stave off new privacy regulations by improving the way companies inform consumers about online ad targeting. In the past, many companies that engaged in behavioral advertising -- or sending people ads based on sites they had visited -- notified users in lengthy and complex privacy policies.
Those legalese-filled documents were criticized by many observers, including Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz, who said that not even the savviest Web users were likely to decipher such privacy policies.
The new icon, a small 'i' in a circle, will also carry text like, "Why did I get this ad," "Interest Based Ad," or "Ad Choice." (Online auction site eBay pioneered the use of "AdChoice.") Users who click through will be taken to a page that explains online ad targeting.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau, American Association of Advertising Agencies, Association of National Advertisers, Direct Marketing Association and the Council for Better Business Bureaus (BBB) said Wednesday that companies' use of the icon and link will indicate their adherence to self-regulatory principles.
The icon was developed by the corporate funded think tank Future of Privacy Foundation, which last May tapped ad agency WPP to create designs. The "i" logo was selected over the other finalist, an "asterisk man".
The Direct Marketing Association is still working on drafting a landing page, said Linda Woolley, executive vice president, government affairs. The organization also is recommending that its members begin using the icon by June.
Jules Polonetsky, co-chair and director of the Future of Privacy Foundation, said that a survey of 2,600 Web users showed that the three phrases selected outperformed other options like "custom ads" and "your info and ads."
Even so, many people still needed more context to understand that the icon and phrases were about the ad-serving process, as opposed to the product being advertised. "It is not a complete solution," he said. "It is going to need some educational support."
Research commissioned by Polonetsky's organization also found that many people appear to have concerns about online privacy. Nearly six out of 10 (59%) respondents agreed with the statement, "I feel that as a result of my visiting websites, others know more about me than I am comfortable with."
In addition, 64% agreed with the statement: "I feel that as a result of my visiting websites, my privacy has been invaded by others who collect data about me."
The FTC is currently examining online privacy and is slated to hold a roundtable Thursday to focus on privacy and social networking.