Today, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) released the results of a research study which tested the effectiveness of using new icons and key phrases to provide web surfers with more transparency and choice about behavioral advertising practices. FPF launched the notices initiative in May 2009 and partnered with a number of divisions at 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. In February 2009, the Federal Trade Commission had 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.
The two phrases that performed significantly better than others in the 2600 internet user panel were, “Why did I get this ad?” and “Interest based ads.” “AdChoice,” a phrase which is currently being used by eBay in its notice program, was a favorite of earlier focus group participants, particularly with less experienced internet users. Overall the notices research showed which phrases and icons were more effective than others, but it also indicated that an educational effort will be necessary to fully ensure that users comprehend behavioral advertising practices.
Two new icons that had emerged as leaders from earlier focus groups, and were tested in the survey included an “asterisk man” and a “Power I” image. Focus group participants, who were previously presented with choices of icons, associated the lowercase “i” with “Information” links, interest-based ads, a power on/off switch alluding to the opt-out option, and the Internet in general. “Asterisk Man” was associated with personalization or a person “watching”. In the internet user panel, without further education or branding, neither had a major advantage over the other and each was dependant on being linked to key phrases, which effectively communicate to users about behavioral advertising.
As Jules Polonetsky, co-chair and director of FPF noted, “We think the icons and phrases, plus an education campaign can play an important role in educating consumers about behavioral advertising, but this needs to be done in concert with serious self regulatory efforts and continued technology and policy advances.”
FPF founder and co-chair Christopher Wolf applauded the results, “When FPF started this initiative, we challenged our partners at WPP to find a creative way to help companies communicate with consumers about behavioral advertising in terms consumers could understand. The research we have released today shows that we have achieved our goal.”
George V. Pappachen, Chief Privacy Officer at WPP’s Kantar Group said, “From the onset of this project, we believed there were innovative ways to engage and inform consumers about behavioral advertising. By using consumer research to guide us and enlisting communication experts to create these new notices, we believe we have reached an effective tactic to help explain behavioral advertising to consumers.”
The study also measured comfort with behavioral advertising with and without transparency and choice. Among the findings, applying transparency and choice increased the percentage of those who were comfortable with behavioral advertising from 24% to 40%, a 37% change. The same study also found that approximately 30% are neutral about behavioral ads with or without transparency and choice.
The final research report was authored by leading academics Mary Culnan and Manoj Hastak, who worked with Polonetsky to structure and design the consumer testing. With GroupM and Kantar coordination, a creative team from Ogilvy designed a collection of symbols, Greenfield Consulting conducted focus groups to test the symbols that showed the most promise, and teams from Kantar Group and Lightspeed were responsible for the online quantitative study.
Members of FPF’s advisory board provided input into the research, including valuable assistance from privacy leaders at AT&T, AOL, eBay, Verizon, TRUSTe and Yahoo as well as Ari Schwartz from the Center for Democracy & Technology and Professor Lorrie Cranor from Carnegie Mellon.