Icon War? Two Behavioral Ad Notice Icons Could Confuse

It’s not quite an icon war, but an ad industry coalition that just released a behavioral ad notice icon isn’t exactly pleased with TRUSTe, which revealed its own just a day before. Both have similar intentions: The coalition’s to help advertisers satisfy behavioral ad guidelines, and TRUSTe’s to enable its site publisher clients to, essentially, do the same.

However, while the symbols represent somewhat different things and could be used by different types of companies, they almost surely will cause confusion among everyday consumers with little knowledge about the nuances of how online advertising operates. A variety of programs could also hamper the industry’s hope of evading privacy legislation affecting behavioral advertising.

Both icons are expected to work in similar ways. When clicked, they’ll present the user with information about the behavioral ads, and choices for opting-out from behavioral ad targeting. Both symbols will be accompanied by specific language. The coalition’s with one of three statements – “Why did I get this/these ad(s)?” “Interest Based Ad(s),” or “Ad Choice(s),” and TRUSTe’s with “Your Info and Ads.”

Both are designed to satisfy requirements for prominent notice of behavioral data usage and behavioral ad targeting outside privacy policies, as demanded by the ad industry coalition and the Federal Trade Commission. The coalition is overseen by the Better Business Bureau’s advertising review body. And includes four member organizations: the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Direct Marketing Association, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and Association of National Advertisers.

“We were called upon to figure out on behalf of our clients how to help them comply with the FTC and emerging practices from the industry groups,” said Fran Maier, TRUSTe president and executive chair. “Our motivation is to serve our clients without necessarily getting into the crosshairs of other organizations,” she added, noting that as a commercial entity TRUSTe may move more swiftly than trade associations.

Both icons were unveiled at the same time. TRUSTe’s [pictured left] demonstrated the behavioral program Tuesday night, before Wednesday’s State of the Net Conference; the event was hosted by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, a group that educates policymakers on issues including Web privacy.

The coalition announced its own symbol [pictured below], which still requires backend technology to operate, the day of the conference.

“Our seal already means something to consumers,” said Maier, regarding the firm’s widely-recognized privacy seal, which indicates that a Web site’s data security has been verified by TRUSTe. Its behavioral icon is nearly identical to the privacy seal.

“There shouldn’t be 20 different programs or 20 different icons,” stressed Maier. Yet, she suggested, “We feel that at this point in time our brand is known to be about personal information.”

Maier also argued that the TRUSTe icon will provide notice when publishers enable ad retargeting. The coalition’s “ad unit tag may not necessarily handle that for a publisher,” she said. She also suggested that some publishers “may not feel comfortable having all their notice requirements handled by third parties enabling their advertising.”

TRUSTe has fought allegations of being too profit-driven to provide valid security certification. Founded as a nonprofit, TRUSTe became a commercial entity in 2008, and charges for its publisher clients to display its seal. Some worry that its for-profit goals could frustrate the ultimate mission of developing standardized behavioral ad industry self-regulation.

When asked about the TRUSTe symbol and possibility of confusion among consumers, Lee Peeler, EVP of the BBB, and president of its National Advertising Review Council, would not elaborate beyond stating, “We think that uniformity is really important for the [consumer] education process.”

“I think there’s an opportunity to publishers and flexibility for them to use multiple icons, and that will be up to the publishers to decide,” said Mike Zaneis, VP of public policy for the IAB, a coalition member group. The two icons are “not mutually exclusive,” he added.

Indeed, Maier said she plans to demo the new TRUSTe program to the IAB soon. “We want to be an industry player,” she said.

She agreed that publishers could feature both icons on their sites, noting that consistency even with multiple icons could be achieved with similar language or image placement. “This is fast changing,” she said. “From a good public policy standpoint that doesn’t mean there should be one approach.”

Related reading