Do people really care if ads follow them around the web, taking notice of sites they've visited?
Well, at least 500,000 internet users -- roughly the population of Atlanta -- do. Altogether, half a million consumers have told advertisers to stop targeting them online, according Evidon, the leading technology provider to the ad industry's privacy program known as About Ads.
In an effort to stem government scrutiny, the ad industry banded together late last year to create a privacy option for people who want to prevent marketers from tracking their habits online, also known as behavioral advertising, and the initial results show only a small percentage care enough to opt-out.
Eighty million internet users see the ad industry's sanctioned privacy icon every day from Evidon alone, which serves 52% of the privacy market. So far only half a million within that group have chosen to prevent marketers and ad networks from serving ads based on their surfing habits.
At the same time, web ads have become effectively invisible, with only one in 10,000 people bothering to click through let alone take the time to notice the ad or the privacy icon that sits on the corner of those ads that may be targeted to specific users.
People who click on the privacy icon see a notice that explains the ad is being shown to them based on other sites they have visited. Someone who may have browsed through sites about shoes might see an ad from Zappos, for example. Each privacy notice shows a list of third-party companies that are tracking people through that ad, such as data companies and ad networks.
According to Evidon CEO Scott Meyer, ads that feature more than five or six accompanying vendors have higher opt-out rates. "It's statistically significant," he said, "and we're not sure why that is right now."
As to whether certain kinds of ads, such as automotive or financial services, have different opt-out rates, Mr. Meyer said that data is still being discussed and is not publicly available.
Evidon and the other two vendors, DoubleVerify and TrustE, have been sanctioned by the ad coalition to provide privacy options to digital marketers. Evidon has 52% of the market by a recent count of impressions served, with TrustE accounting for a third and DoubleVerify the rest. The data is based on a panel from data tracking firm Ghostery, which is owned by Evidon.
This doesn't include the privacy efforts of major web publishers like Google, AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft, which serve a blanket privacy option on all their advertising regardless of whether they are targeted to consumers, nor does it include opt-outs on the web-browser level on Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari and others.