Advertisers, agencies and publishers serve the AdChoices icon more than 1 trillion times each month. Yet despite the icon's presence throughout the Web, fewer than one in 10 Internet users know what the small blue symbol in the shape of a sideways triangle actually means, according to the latest State of Media report by the agency Kelly Scott Madison.
That icon -- the centerpiece of the industry's privacy code -- is supposed to function as an immediately recognizable symbol indicating online behavioral advertising. That is, it's supposed to inform people that advertisers are drawing on consumers' Web-surfing history in order to serve them targeted ads. Clicking on the icon also takes people to pages where they can learn more about behavioral targeting and also opt out of receiving targeted ads.
KSM calls the industry's icon program a “valiant attempt” to provide transparency. Nonetheless, the results have been “disappointing,” the agency says in its report. “Consumers need to understand advertising capabilities so they aren’t fearful of the potential consequences, and advertisers need to be transparent about how and when they are using customer data,” the report states.
For the report, the agency partnered with research forum ORC International, which conducts twice-weekly surveys of 1,000 online adults. The survey found that three out of four Web users (74%) aren't familiar with the AdChoices campaign at all, while only one in three (35%) of the 26% that are familiar with the you-are-being-tracked icon know what it means. The bottom line: Just 9% of Web users understand the icon, according to KSM.
Lou Mastria, executive director of the self-regulatory group Digital Advertising Alliance, offers different numbers. He says that a survey released by privacy compliance company TRUSTe in February shows that 37% of people are now aware of the AdChoices icon, up from 21% the prior year.
“While many consumers do not care to learn about or take action on those issues, we believe the icon has proven itself as a valuable tool for those consumers who want more information and choices about the marketing they receive,” he says.