New to Retargeting, Twitter Abstains From Ad Industry's Privacy Program

Has a Do-Not-Track Account Setting but Isn't Using 'AdChoices' Icon

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Twitter last month introduced promoted tweets that can be Target Browsing History, Email Addresses">targeted based on websites users have visited, but there was one notable omission: the little blue triangle of the ad industry's self-regulatory program that's intended to provide disclosure and the opportunity to opt-out from behaviorally-targeted ads.

On the same day its retargeted ads were announced, Twitter was acclaimed by the privacy watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation for "praiseworthy design decisions." The organization credited it with honoring the Do-Not-Track signal when enabled on users' browsers -- meaning Twitter won't collect browsing information about those users -- and allowing users to opt out altogether from ads where the targeting is based on websites they've visited and email addresses they've provided to marketers.

AdChoices icon, which you won't see on Twitter
AdChoices icon, which you won't see on Twitter

Twitter has clearly taken pains to address user privacy, but the fact that it's not placing the little blue triangle on its retargeted ads raises questions. (Those ads are still few and far between, since the product is in a limited beta with three ad-tech partners that enable the anonymized data matching.) Can the self-regulatory program be effective when a big and growing publisher of display ads like Twitter ignores it? And will the program fade into irrelevance as tech companies seek to put their own stamp on protecting user privacy?

Far more people enable "Do Not Track" in their browsers than opt out of behavioral ads via the so-called "AdChoices" icon, observed Jim Brock, VP-privacy products at AVG Technologies. Because of that, he thinks Twitter and, now, Pinterest's pledge to recognize the "Do Not Track" browser setting is potentially more valuable to consumers than the blue icon.

"Maybe these companies are getting on board with the movement that matters," he said.

Asked whether it would start using the "AdChoices" icon, Twitter provided this statement through a spokesman: "We've put transparency and user choice at the forefront of our tailored ads offering. Users who wish to opt out can do so right in their account settings, just one click away from every page on Twitter."

'AdChoices' in Practice
Developed by the Digital Advertising Alliance, a consortium of ad trade groups, the "AdChoices" icon was designed in large part to stave off government interference and legislation that would prescribe data collection practices. The notion is that its presence in the corner of a display ad tips consumers who care about online privacy to the fact that it's been targeted using third-party data. By clicking on it, they can opt out of behaviorally targeted ads from a cross-section of DSPs and ad exchanges, which give them a choice about how the data being gathered about them is used.

Another notable straggler in adopting the icon was Facebook. It began placing the icon on FBX ads in February, five months after the launch of its exchange. Facebook is now in compliance, but it's noteworthy that opt-out from FBX ads requires considerably more effort than it takes to opt out of Twitter ads using third-party data. There's no Facebook account setting to opt out altogether; instead, a user must click through to the AdChoices icon within several FBX ads to go to the relevant ad-tech vendor's page, and opt out one at a time.

The consequences of failing to comply with the self-regulatory program for a publisher, agency or ad-tech vendor are nebulous. However, the body charged with policing compliance, the Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program, has taken a few actions, including work with Facebook on making FBX compliant. Last fall it called out Kia, its agency and vendors for failure to place the icon. But the action was essentially limited to public chastisement; there was no financial penalty.

A spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the program is considering action against Twitter, noting that it doesn't weigh in on issues that could be in its jurisdiction.

Are Native Ads Different?
There also might be a perception in the market that Twitter and other publishers that develop native-ad solutions don't need to adopt the AdChoices program to the letter.

Mindshare's chief strategy officer Jordan Bitterman thinks that for native ads a better solution than the little blue triangle would be to allow people to opt out of behaviorally targeted ads at the site level -- and to make that choice conspicuous in the site's terms of service. But he acknowledged that might not go far enough for some.

"AdChoices started as a solution for banner ads when native advertising was still just a glimmer in our eye. One might argue that an AdChoices logo tagged in a tweet is not the right solution for that platform," Mr. Bitterman said in an email. "The logo would be everywhere, which would be a poor user experience to say the least."

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