PrivacyWidget 1.0: Demonstrating enhanced privacy notice and choice for behavioral ads

January 12, 2010 1.0 is live today for public beta testing. Website publishers who deploy online behavioral advertising can now see and experiment with the enhanced notice-and-choice required by the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising announced last year.

This is an important milestone for PrivacyChoice, as part of our charter to design and demonstrate technologies to enhance consumer privacy disclosure and choice. Many thanks to all those who have provided input and advice!

Here are some of the values that guided the design of the PrivacyWidget service:

Consumer Experience. While PrivacyWidgets will be installed by webmasters, consumers are the ones who will actually use them. In the consumer experience we emphasize three key objectives: simplicity, consistency and persistence.

Simplicity means integrating all relevant policy and opt-out information for a website or webpage into a single interface that does not require interaction with separate advertisements or ad-network websites. The disclosure information is nested so users can learn to their level of interest; choices are prominent and require a minimal number of clicks. Consistency means storing preferences in one place so users can confirm them at any time, and see their status on any PrivacyWidget they may encounter across sites. Persistence means acknowledging the fleeting nature of opt-out cookies by tightly integrating the PrivacyChoice opt-out browser add-ons to keep preferences in place.

Customization. Consumer OBA privacy disclosure is a new endeavor, so there are no clear rules about how the new disclosure should be integrated into websites – above the fold, below the fold, linked from a floating tab, attached to an icon next to an ad, or attached to a link. Some websites may want to include excerpts from ad-network privacy policies. Others may be satisfied with links to privacy-policy pages. A web publisher may also want to customize its list to reflect individual arrangements with ad-network partners. For example, some AdSense publishers have not enabled interest-based advertising, and may choose to omit that network from the list.

We don’t view it as our job to set policy on the integration or depth of disclosure, or to provide disclosure language that is right for every situation (no doubt our starting language can be improved). Customization gives individual websites the flexibility to craft their own privacy experience. Experimentation and real user input can shape best practices.

Analytics and Feedback. Since we’re here to support experimentation and iteration, we built a basic analytics dashboard for each site’s PrivacyWidget, including viewer counts, opt out rates and a satisfaction-survey results. Individual site analytics and feedback are confidential, but we’re asking beta participants to let us aggregate overall trends. This offers the first chance to study consumer views on a large scale directly in the context of the privacy notice-and-choice experience. Relative opt-out rates among ad networks may help websites make smarter decisions about which third-parties to enable.

Neutrality. As a matter of visual design, the guiding principle is neutrality, to ensure that the PrivacyWidget can work in and around a wide variety of websites and color palettes. This requirement led to simple shapes, a controllable dominant color, and a “light box” overlay interface that maintains the context of the anchoring page.

We have also sought neutrality in the substantive disclosures and choices presented to the consumer. We use each ad-delivery company’s own words to describe its business and policies. We offer “opt-in” as well as “opt out” choices (for networks that support them).

Easy Installation. The PrivacyWidget derives the correct list of ad networks automatically for each page where it appears, which makes set-up very simple. Since it installs with a few lines of Javascript, we’ve made it easy for websites to install and try out. They can run a trial and see the impact (and opt-out rates) before installing across the entire site.

Free. PrivacyWidgets are free for any website, large or small. There’s no reason to put up barriers to complete consumer disclosure, and we’re confident that contributions and partnerships can support the modest costs we incur to provide the service. We do appreciate contributions from sites that need advanced customization and alerts, but we aren’t setting any minimum amount. No contributions are expected while we are in beta.

Beta. Since the service is still in beta, please expect to find a few rough spots. A few obvious issues: the stats view is yet to be optimized and loads very slowly, editing widget text with html needs much refinement, and proper error screens are not always in place. Please let us know of any issues you see.

What’s next? In addition to continuing to improve performance and functionality based on feedback, here are some upgrades we have in development:

  • Templates. We enable complete customization of the language used to explain behavioral advertising, but we also would like to offer several different templates based on each site’s primary needs. For example, it may be more important for e-commerce sites to highlight retargeting (where they have partners identify users on the website in order to reach them on other sites), rather than targeted advertising provided on their own site.
  • User Profiles. Since some networks are now starting to provide consumers with a view of the interests and preferences collected about them, we will embed easy links to this information.
  • Summaries. For ease of use, we’re going to experiment with summary indicators, such as when all networks on a page or site are NAI members, or all of them have conforming policies.
  • Ad Tags. Over time, the leading networks will adopt ad tags that identify individual ads as behaviorally-targeted. We will surface these classifications in the consumer-facing list of networks on the page since it is useful as to networks that participate).
  • Ad Network Index. The PrivacyWidget service will be integrated with a broader public index of tracking-network information to be launched in the next few days. Our goal is to create a resource of public information for websites, advertisers and consumers, since ultimately they will have a huge influence on privacy and disclosure standards for the industry.

One Response to “PrivacyWidget 1.0: Demonstrating enhanced privacy notice and choice for behavioral ads”

  1. […] PrivacyWidget 1.0: Demonstrating enhanced privacy notice and choice for behavioral ads […]

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