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DMA: Consumers Confused About Ad Targeting

7 Aug, 2013 By: Doug McPherson

NEW YORK – Consumers aren't accurately distinguishing between behaviorally targeted ads and other types of online ads, according to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

The DMA says during the past 18 months, it got more than 300 complaints about alleged online behavioral advertising (or ad-targeting). But the DMA says in its annual ethics compliance report released last week that most of those complaints were actually about untargeted ads – especially ads for dating sites.

Senny Boone, general counsel to the DMA, says the DMA decided that the consumers were mistaken after questioning the advertisers about their ad-targeting techniques. Many of the subjects of complaints told the DMA that they serve ads based on data like users' locations, but not their Web-surfing histories.

“Consumers might think that something they're seeing when they go to a website is a targeted ad to them, but actually it's an ad that you can't opt out of,” Boone told MediaPost News.

She added that the DMA requires companies to notify consumers about online behavioral advertising and allow them to opt out of receiving behaviorally targeted ads. But the trade group doesn't require companies to allow people to opt out of other types of banner or search ads.

The DMA says it's unclear why the consumers believed that they had viewed behaviorally targeted ads in those cases. People who complained did so through an online form at its site or the one run by the umbrella group Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA). One way consumers reach the DAA's site is by clicking on the AdChoices icon – which is present on behaviorally targeted ads and aims to inform Web users about the technique. But Boone says consumers could also have come to the DAA's site through search engines, or other mechanisms.

Around 30 people who complained about online behavioral advertising accurately identified the type of ads they had seen. Some of that group said they had problems opting out of receiving ads targeted based on behavior. The DMA said that one complaint led the association to learn of possible technical issues in opting out of some targeted ads.

The DMA also said that in some cases, antivirus software interfered with the opt-out cookies. The organization “provided consumers with tips on how to ensure that their OBA opt-out process would be honored by changing their cookie preferences,” according to the report.

The current opt-out system relies on cookies, but privacy-conscious consumers often delete their cookies. That's one of the reasons why the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called for Web companies to develop a more permanent do-not-track mechanism.

All browser companies now offer a do-not-track header that communicates users' preferences to publishers and ad networks. But Web companies haven't been able to reach a consensus about how to respond to those browser-based headers.

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