While most of the web's biggest publishers and advertisers such as Google, Time Inc., General Motors and Kraft Foods have adopted the ad industry program regulating privacy, smaller companies have yet to sign on in any significant way. Some may be unaware of the new industry rules governing targeted ads; others perhaps mistakenly believing they have to pay the $5,000 annual fee to use the icon.
In an effort to bring in more of these so-called "long tail" companies, the Digital Advertising Alliance, a coalition of ad trade groups managing the privacy process, announced today a deal with analytics firm Quantcast to make the program freely available to small companies that make less than $2 million annually from targeted advertising. Anyone already making use of Quantcast's analytics tool, which is also free, will now be able to incorporate the About Ads icon, a mark of participation and a link that allows people to opt out of ad targeting used in the ad.
To be clear, the DAA had already opened up its program to smaller players by freely licensing the icon to companies booking less than $2 million a year from behaviorally targeted advertising, but it has yet to gain mass adoption. The DAA's agreement with Quantcast could more immediately bring in smaller publishers that already use the company's analytics tool. Over 25 million publishers use Quantcast, according to the company.
"It looked to us like the industry was having a hard time getting everyone involved," Quantcast general counsel Michael Blum said. "We have relationships with many more publishers in the long tail, and we hope this will accelerate the process of more publishers being involved."
Large publishers such as CNBC.com use Quantcast, but its relationship with WordPress might be more applicable as millions of bloggers use it as a blogging tool and may or may not be aware of the industry's new regulations.
The ad industry has been actively promoting its efforts to monitor how advertisers target and track consumers online based on which sites they have visited, so-called "behavioral" or "interest-based" ads. There are no firm numbers on how much of $28.5 billion in U.S. digital ad revenue is based on targeted ads, but some in the industry estimate it to be around 30%.
Peter Kosmala, the head of the DAA, said more and more publishers and advertisers are seeing money from behavioral advertising, and that the DAA's partnership with Quantcast is a way to reach out to a large group of publishers very quickly.
"What's really intrigued us about this is the scope of it," he said of the partnership. "So many long-tail publishers in their client base now. This can deploy the icon in a significant and effective way."
The DAA has been actively seeking to sign on all industry players as part of its mission to self-regulate and stem online privacy legislation. In absence of a law, the Federal Trade Commission has diligently pursued digital companies that deceive consumers or fail to disclose their activities in their privacy policies. Nonetheless, a number of Congressional bills that would standardize online privacy have been put into circulation, and it may become a leading issue after the 2012 presidential contest.
In the meantime, the FTC will review the DAA's privacy program in the next few months. In May, the FTC's director of Consumer Protection David Vladeck told Age Age he'll be evaluating whether consumers are clicking through the icon to see what's going on, and if they're exercising choice. "We want to see how it plays," he said. "This is all new. I want to give credit to the industry for moving forward on this, but there's no guarantee that it'll work."