The Digital Advertising Alliance's behavioral targeting icons currently appear on around 11% of ads served by third parties on the most popular Web sites, according to new research from Stanford. Around half of the ads carrying icons also contained an "AdChoices" text link.
For the report, the researchers examined 449 non-explicit sites in Alexa's list of the top 500 U.S. Web sites. The researchers found 512 third-party ads -- meaning ads served by ad networks -- on the sites' home pages. Of those 58 had an AdChoices icon, while just 28 also had the text link. The icon and text were present in the footer of 13 pages.
The self-regulatory program requires that companies engaged in online behavioral advertising notify consumers via an icon and also allow them to opt out of receiving targeted ads. The program defines behavioral advertising as collecting data about Web-surfing activity across unrelated sites in order to predict users' interests and deliver targeted ads. The definition excludes data related to ad delivery and reporting.
Given the relatively small proportion of ads to carry the icon, the Stanford researchers are asking whether industry estimates about behavioral targeting are overly inflated. Researchers say their findings "run contrary to two common claims from members of the online advertising industry: that the vast majority of third-party ads are behaviorally targeted and that the largest players in behavioral targeting have embraced the AdChoices icon." They add: "Given our results, both claims cannot be true."
As proof that the industry claims most ad-network ads involve behavioral targeting, the report references a MediaPost column from February by BlueKai CEO Omar Tawakol, in which he said that 80% of online ads "rely on third-party cookies for some form of audience targeting."
Tawakol, however, says there was a "disconnect" in the Stanford report's use of his quote. "The 80% number came from a survey of the largest agencies in the US where they were asked to specify what percentage of their display ad budgets used the following techniques which all leverage a third party cookie: frequency capping, conversion reporting and optimization and OBA [online behavioral advertising]," he said in an email to Online Media Daily. "Said differently, OBA is one of the reasons that a third party cookie is used, but not the only reason."