What Do Online Behavioral Advertising Disclosures Communicate to Users? (CMU-CyLab-12-008)
Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) is the practice of tailoring ads based on an individual's online activities. We conducted a 1,505-participant online study to investigate Internet users' perceptions of OBA disclosures while performing an online task. We tested icons, accompanying taglines, and landing pages intended to inform users about OBA and provide opt-out options; these were based on prior research or drawn from those currently in use. The icons, taglines, and landing pages fell short both in terms of notifying participants about OBA and clearly informing participants about their choices. Half of the participants remembered the ads they saw but only 12% correctly remembered the disclosure taglines attached to ads. The majority of participants mistakenly believed that ads would pop up if they clicked on disclosure icons and taglines, and more participants incorrectly thought that clicking the disclosures would let them purchase their own advertisements than correctly understood that they could then opt out of OBA. "Ad-Choices," the tagline most commonly used by online advertisers, was particularly ineffective at communicating notice and choice. 45% of participants who saw "AdChoices" believed that it was intended to sell advertising space, while only 27% believed it was an avenue to stop tailored ads. A majority of participants mistakenly believed that opting out would stop all online tracking, not just tailored ads. We discuss challenges in crafting disclosures, and we provide suggestions for improvement.