AdChoices Icon Under Scrutiny as DAA Seeks New Director

The ad industry coalition’s behavioral ad icon has drawn criticism in a new academic study. Meanwhile, the Digital Advertising Alliance has yet to replace its first director, who left the organization in February.

Peter Kosmala, the first person hired to head the Digital Advertising Alliance as managing director, left the trade group after less than a year on the job. His departure came as the DAA was about to launch development of a browser-based Do Not Track tool in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Commerce Department.

Research published today from Carnegie Mellon University suggests the DAA’s AdChoices icon was not recognizable to web users when a study was conducted last year. In its small “Smart, Useful, Scary, Creepy: Perceptions of Online Behavioral Advertising” study conducted in August 2011, Carnegie Mellon found that around half of users surveyed – 25 of 48 – had never seen the ad icon when showed it in context. Fifteen of the 48 participants said they had seen the DAA icon before.

“The purpose of these icons eluded participants, even when shown in context,” noted the study. It also stated that “no participants thought they were being informed about data collection, even though the DAA considers informing consumers about data collection a ‘prominent feature’ of self regulation.”

The study also said some participants believed clicking the icon would launch a pop-up or result in some other “negative consequences.” In reality, the icon launches a small window that shows information about how a particular ad was targeted and allows the user to click through to learn more and opt-out from ad targeting.

Carnegie Mellon researchers asked participants whether they’d seen the DAA icon, and followed up with questions including “Have you clicked on it?” “What happened when you clicked on it?” and “What do you think is the purpose of this icon?”

As legislators press for passage of privacy bills, the DAA is taking a big step beyond the ad icon. Last month, the DAA said it would work with the FTC and Commerce Department to immediately begin development of browser-based header tools. “If the consumer selects a choice not to have data collected,” said DAA general counsel Stu Ingis, “that will be honored uniformly across all [DAA] companies.” He said the planned opt-out tool will continue tracking some online ad data for campaign reporting purposes.

Kosmala, was named managing director of the DAA, a coalition of ad industry groups including the Direct Marketing Association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the 4A’s, in May 2011. He started working with the 4A’s on March 1 and expects to remain involved with the DAA at a strategic level.

There is no replacement yet for Kosmala at the DAA.

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