Future of Privacy Forum Unveils New Privacy and Personalization Symbols Finalists


Today Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) released two proposed icons designed to communicate to web users about the efforts of advertisers to tailor ads based on the websites they visit.

In February 2009, the Federal Trade Commission expressed concern that privacy policies were not being read or understood, and urged the industry to develop new methods of providing notice to users about behavioral advertising practices. Leading trade groups have drafted self regulatory principles requiring new notices to users to appear alongside ads or on web sites.

With this in mind, FPF partnered with a number of divisions of WPP, the global marketing communications company, to launch a consumer focused effort that would rely on the skill of advertising and communications professionals to engage users about efforts to provide relevant banner advertising. A creative team from Ogilvy designed a collection of symbols, Greenfield Research conducted focus groups to test the symbols that showed the most promise, and teams from Kantar Group and Lightspeed launched an online quantitative study. Leading academics Mary Culnan and Manoj Hastak worked with FPF director Jules Polonetsky to structure and design the consumer testing.

“Legal statements and privacy policies play a key role in binding companies to their online commitments,” said FPF co-chair Christopher Wolf. “But if the goal is communicating a complicated concept to users, it makes sense to turn to the best communications experts and challenge them to help companies communicate in terms consumers can understand.”

“Instead of focusing on privacy statements and disclaimers, we sought to openly tell consumers how companies were seeking to use data to tailor the ads they were shown,” explained Jules Polonetsky, FPF co-chair and director. “Only by being more transparent and dispelling the notion that behavioral advertising is a secret process can businesses partner with consumers to deliver personalization that will be valued.”

George V. Pappachen, Chief Privacy Officer at WPP’s Kantar Group, said, “Our approach was to create a touch-point that could engage users to learn more about the ads they are seeing. Both of these designs that have risen to the top of the list do just that.”

The icons are now being tested with an internet survey of 2600 users to quantitatively determine their utility as a means of providing effective notice and to select the most effective symbol and language.

One icon features a lowercase “i” with a partial circle around it. Focus group participants associated this image with “Information” links, interest-based ads, a power on/off switch alluding to the opt-out option, and the Internet in general.

The other leading symbol features an asterisk with a human-like shape. Focus group participants understand that the symbol indicates “personalization” and an alert that there was more information about the advertising available.
Polonetsky explained, “We do not think that simply displaying an icon and a few words is a full solution to the challenge of online privacy and personalization. Transparency needs to be supported with users having access to their profiles and with strict limits on use of sensitive data and children’s data. Opt-out choices need to work and data retention should be minimized. The entire process needs meaningful oversight and effective enforcement.”

“But the first step is respecting users enough to let them know what is going on. That is what we hope to accomplish with these symbols.”

The icon winner will be announced soon so please stay tuned for more information.

Please visit the links below to see our work on this topic.

Kick-Off Announcement:

Comments by the FTC Chairman:

Link to Relevant Research page on our Wiki:

Saul Hansell’s New York Times Bits Blog: “Seeking a Symbol for ‘This Ad Knows About You”