Interested in how information about your online behaviors is collected? Forget Do Not Track or the Privacy Bill of Rights. Instead, look no further than the Advertising Option Icon, which lets consumers make informed choices about online privacy.

A Tracking Alternative

As 2010 wrapped up, it became clear that users and legislators were getting serious about online privacy issues surrounding online advertising. While advertisers scramble to prepare for their next move as they await action from the Federal Trade Commission, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which opposes the FTC’s proposed Do Not Track system, has launched their own alternative and encouraged advertisers to implement.

Called the Advertising Option Program, consumers are equipped with a better understanding and more control over ads that are served to them based on their online behavior. By clicking on an icon within or around an ad unit, consumers can link to a disclosure statement regarding the data collection and usage practices associated with that ad, as well as opt-out to stop receiving behaviorally targeted ads from the company in the future.

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The “Advertising Option Icon” gives consumers information about the companies that are behind the interest-based ads they receive, and choices around how their information is used.

Better Advertising or a Buried Option?

But is the Advertising Option Icon really a viable option? According to recent analysis by Better Advertising, an advertising company that uses the Icon, few consumers are choosing to opt out. In fact, of those that clicked on the icon and were presented with information about tracking, only 5% decided to continue the process and fully opt out.

Yet, how many really know about the Icon and what actions they can take once clicked? If the Advertising Option Program is about consumer transparency, as it claims, it may need to focus on more education and awareness so that users can be more informed about the Icon and how to recognize it. Without it, it’s not likely that the FTC will be convinced that a simple opt-out button is enough to protect users online.