The fight to gain privacy assurances from advertisers is like a massive, complicated waltz: one step forward, two steps back. In the end, we just keep on dancing around in circles. More than any other time in the history of the Web, advertisers are feeling the squeeze from government regulators and consumer advocates demanding transparency and respect for user privacy.
The Federal Trade Commission has taken strong steps toward protecting user privacy with its Final Privacy Framework. Apple, the world's largest corporation, has also moved to block advertisers from tracking users on iPhones and iPads through its unique device ID policies. Advertisers are aware that it is in their best interest to be as transparent as possible and the industry's self-regulatory commissions are gaining traction. Does this waltz have an ending where both advertisers and consumers are satisfied?
The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) and Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) have seen participation rise in recent years, with now more than 80 companies in the NAI so far in 2012. The NAI provides users a portal where advertisers can show their privacy guidelines and users can opt out of cookie tracking, the prevalent way that ad agencies gain data for behavioral targeting.
Since 2008, about 9.8 million visitors have come to the NAI's opt-out site. That includes a little over 5.9 million in 2011, almost twice the people that had visited the site in the previous three years combined. Since 2008, about 1.75 million users have opted out of cookie tracking, approximately 17%.
Consumers are also leery of search engines. According to a Pew survey cited by law firm Loeb & Loeb as part of its Media Mindshare Leadership Series, 73% of consumers are "not OK" with a search engine that keeps track of your searches and uses that information to personalize your future results.
Users and advertisers are going to have to find a balance. Behavioral advertising is creepy, yes, but the services that advertising supports (such as search, apps and various types of digital media) are vital to the flow of the Web and how consumers spend their time on it. The FTC has the right of it: Give users the option to opt out of cookie tracking and make the advertisers be as transparent as possible.
Check out the infographic from Loeb & Loeb below.