How well do users understand the icons and taglines that appear in behaviorally targeted advertisements on web pages? Do they even see these little details in a page that is busy with content? This is the summary of an article by Pedro Giovanni Leon, et al. You can get the pdf of the behavioral targeting article here: What Do Online Behavioral Advertising Disclosures Communicate to Users
Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) is used by online advertising companies to create individually targeted ads. Advertising companies create models of consumer behaviors, making these ads more expensive and also increasing click-through rates. Users benefit with ads that are more relevant and enjoy free services online.
In addition, online advertising companies have addressed privacy concerns by establishing a self-regulatory program, whose key elements include transparency, education and consumer control. For transparency and consumer control, OBA uses taglines and icons placed near targeted ads, which directs to a page that gives detailed information about OBA and allows users to opt out.
Online Behavioral Advertising
According to FTC, online behavioral advertising is “the practice of tracking an individual’s online activities in order to deliver advertising tailored to the individual’s interests.” In this method, third-party HTML cookies are primarily used. These cookies are placed by an advertising network, or in general, another domain.
Online behavioral advertising has been shown to increase click through rates. As such, behavioral targeting is highly popular among advertisers. It does, however, raise privacy concerns among users. They simply don’t want to be tracked online even if they remain anonymous.
Evaluation of OBA Disclosures and Tools
The Future of Privacy Forum, an advocacy group, developed icons for OBA. A test was conducted to determine which taglines and icons were effective. In that study it was found that “Asterisk Man” was the right icon for the job, but the “Power I” icon was eventually selected, and modified to look like a letter ‘i’ inside a triangle. It was called the “Advertising Option” icon. Tag lines “Adchoices” and “Interest Based Ads” were also used. However, in another study, it was found that people had difficulty interpreting these icons and tag lines.
Studies show that people don’t read, don’t understand, and don’t like privacy policies. As such, researchers are looking for alternatives, including a “privacy nutrition label.” These standardized presentations are found to make users understand privacy policies better and faster. Furthermore, it has been found that a table format is best for such disclosures.
The goal of this study is to determine if participants noticed online behavioral advertising icons and tag lines on a web page and to know their interpretation of the tag lines, icons and landing pages. Participants were randomly assigned to experimental conditions wherein each was sent to a webpage with an icon, tag line, and landing page. Half of the participants were also told that they were being shown behaviorally targeted ads.
The data set is composed of 1,505 participants who performed an “Internet Usage Survey” last December 2011. The participants lived in the United States and are all 18 years and above of age. Each took an average of 24 minutes to complete the study.
Participants first provided demographic information and answered questions to determine whether they agree or disagree with some general facts about Internet advertising. Behavioral advertising was simulated by giving participants browsing tasks. They were asked to browse about traveling to Paris or buying a Nissan car.
From the search engine results page, participants were asked to go to two websites. Then they answered questions regarding Internet usage. They were then tasked to go to the front page of a New York Times page, which contained online behavioral advertising tag lines and icons, and asked about a few questions, including if they noticed any kind of mechanism involving privacy protection.
Participants were randomly assigned to a simulated news page containing specified online behavioral advertising privacy disclosures, based on varying icons (the Advertising Option icon and Asterisk man). In addition, there are seven tagline conditions: no tagline, “Why did I get this ad?” “Interest based ads,” “AdChoices,” “Sponsor ads,” “Learn about your ad choices,” and “Conﬁgure ad preferences.” Furthermore, the landing pages are also randomly assigned. The five landing pages are from the five advertising companies Monster Career Network, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and AOL.
After visiting the simulated New York Times page, participants continued with the survey, this time asking the participants about the products advertised, and if they saw taglines or symbols near these ads. More questions regarding the icons and taglines awaited the participants when they answer yes. The participants were then shown their online behavioral advertising disclosure treatments and asked questions regarding how they interpret these disclosures.
Finally, participants were then asked to click on an online behavioral advertising disclosure icon to visit a landing page, where they are shown information regarding online behavioral targeting and opt out features. They were then asked questions about how they interpreted the landing page and its message.
Results and Discussion
Some disclosures are found to be more effective than others, but all disclosures are unable to communicate effectively to consumers. For one, less than 12 percent remembered the taglines and icons. Small icons would go hardly noticed in a page that is filled with content.
While the DAA recommends “AdChoices” as a tagline, this study showed it is not effective. “Learn about your ad choices” and “Why did I get this ad?” are in fact, more effective. Taglines that contained actionable words were more effective at telling users they have a choice with online behavioral advertising. “AdChoices” just seemed meaningless to the users; 45% thought it meant there’s ad space available.
The study also showed that users were not particularly keen on clicking these taglines or icons. They felt pop ups would appear or that by clicking, they are showing interest in buying the advertised product. Users need to understand why they have to click the icons in the first place. In addition, most participants did not understand what ‘opt out’ means. Most of them think it means online tracking will stop. The difference between opting out of online tracking and opting out of tailored ads should be emphasized. In other words, users need to be educated.