Facebook is not part of the ad industry's self-regulatory program that notifies consumers about online data collection and ad targeting, but people can find the ubiquitous AdChoices icon on Facebook anyway: in third-party apps.
Facebook was among the top sites that displayed the small blue triangle-shape icon during the past week. But the symbol didn't show up in display ads sold by Facebook or in the behaviorally-targeted ads served its Facebook Exchange -- rather, the symbol appeared in ads served in Facebook apps.
"Facebook apps are a big place where you see the icon," said Ed Kozek, who heads engineering and product development for Evidon, provider of the research. For instance, users of the Scrabble game app for Facebook may see display ads with the icon from advertisers including Net10 Wireless.
Microsoft properties were also high on the list despite the fact that they may have been blocked if the company's controversial do-not-track browser tool were acknowledged by firms serving the ads.
According to Evidon, a firm that tracks the number of AdChoices icon impressions served to people who use its Ghostery software, apps built on Facebook's API were among the top five domains showing impressions of the icon in the U.S. and globally during the week ending Oct. 29. The company tracked Facebook as No. 5 globally and No. 8 in the U.S. in the week ending Dec. 17.
While the notification icon appears in Facebook apps, it doesn't show up in ads elsewhere on Facebook, particularly the behaviorally targeted ads served through its FBX ad exchange, launched in June. The FBX offering opened up the otherwise-closed environment of Facebook advertising to third-party behavioral data, allowing advertisers to aim behavioral ads on Facebook through its exchange partners. Facebook is among the few large sites that do not participate in the AdChoices program.
The icon appears in ads that have been behaviorally targeted or that are tracking user data for future ad-targeting purposes.
Microsoft properties also display lots of icon impressions. Live.com, home to Microsoft's HotMail and other applications, showed ads with the second-highest number of icon impressions during the weeks measured, both globally and here in the U.S. The company's portal MSN came in the top five during the periods measured, globally and in the U.S.
The prevalence of icon impressions on Microsoft properties is somewhat ironic. Microsoft recently launched a version of its Internet Explorer browser that turns on a do-not-track setting by default. Yet, as the Evidon data show, the firm earns revenue from behaviorally targeted ads that its automated do-not-track tool is intended to block.
Because Microsoft has automatically opted-in users to the do-not-track setting, instead of giving them the choice to opt in, most companies tracking user data and targeting ads do not acknowledge the Microsoft do-not-track signal.
Other domains that showed up in the top ten lists during both weeks measured included Yahoo, YouTube, eBay and image hosting site Imgur.com.
Evidon measured the number of AdChoices symbol impressions served to the 7.5 million people who have downloaded Ghostery and opted into its GhostRank Panel, which monitors the tracking technologies used on every website visited by its panel users. The number of Ghostery users overall has grown to more than 17 million in the past year; 40% of them are in the U.S. and 40% are in Europe, according to Evidon CEO Scott Meyer.
The AdChoices program is overseen by the Digital Advertising Alliance, a group of ad-industry trade associations that hopes its self-regulatory efforts stave off privacy legislation. The icons appear in display advertising and provide information about which companies were involved in targeting the ads. Consumers can click from the icon to a landing page where they can opt-out from receiving behaviorally targeted ads.
The icon impressions data measured all instances of the icon as served by a variety of companies including Evidon, Microsoft, Google, AOL and Truste.