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Smart, Useful, Scary, Creepy:. Perceptions of Online Behavioral Advertising . Privacy Concerns. OBA = Online Behavioral Advertising According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission: Data collection can be sneaky Privacy notices are not easy to understand

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Smart, Useful, Scary, Creepy:

Perceptions of Online Behavioral Advertising

Privacy Concerns

  • OBA = Online Behavioral Advertising

    • According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission:

  • Data collection can be sneaky

  • Privacy notices are not easy to understand

  • User profiles are potentially too detailed

    • Could be uniquely identifiable

  • Profiles could contain sensitive data

    • Info about health, finances, children


  • Users do not understand how OBA works

    • Many misconceptions about how and what data is collected

    • Misunderstand the role of advertising networks

  • Users are unaware of the control they have over their own privacy regarding OBA

    • Users misinterpret the warning signs of OBA

    • Users misconstrue how to control the monitoring of their behavior

  • Solution:

    • Understand how internet consumers perceive OBA to better inform them and protect their privacy by employing more effective Notice and Choice mechanisms

What OBA Is and How It Works

  • Goal:

    • to construct a profile of an Internet user using his or her browsing habits used in targeted advertising

  • Data:

    • visible content from the site a user is visiting explicitly, and invisible content from a third-party that has a relationship with the visited website

  • Third parties:

    • advertising networks, analytics companies, social networks

  • How:

    • A cookie identifies a user across partner sites to track browsing history

Users’ Impressions of Internet Advertising

  • Negative:

    • Annoying, unnecessary, distracting, interfering

    • Associated with pop-ups

    • Unfounded fears

  • Useful:

    • Helped users find new products

    • Helps fund free services

Users’ Impressions on How OBA Works

  • Based on browsing history and web searches

  • Hoped actual monitoring is hypothetical

  • Some aware of cookies but don’t understand details

  • Believed data like purchase history could be bought

  • Some thought that interaction with the ad was necessary

  • Targeted advertising only happens on websites like Facebook, Gmail, or Amazon

    • Customization is good

    • Privacy invasion is bad

OBA Icons

  • Goal: inform users that their data is being collected

  • Users’ perceptions

    • Many had never seen the icons before, even when shown in context with advertisements

    • Some felt that icons meant “internet based ads” or represented “great deals online”

    • No one realized what the icons were actually trying to tell them

    • Some thought they allowed users to choose what type of ads they would receive

    • Some thought that clicking on the icon would let them tell the advertisers about their interests, perhaps providing a list of subjects

OBA Icons continued…

  • Users’ perceptions

    • Solicited companies to buy an ad

    • Clicking would lead to pop-ups

    • Clicking would yield more information about currently advertised product or expand the advertisement

    • Clicking would allow advertisers to track the user

    • Meant to legitimize the ad and distinguish it from the page content

  • Result: ineffective

Users’ OBA Pros

After being informed, users concluded:

  • Help users find things they are interested in

  • Provide a more relevant and interesting internet experience

  • Help users save money by finding deals

  • Advertisers can make more money by targeting the right users

  • Website that host OBA can make more money

Users’ OBA Cons

After being informed, users concluded:

  • The idea that they could be monitored is creepy

  • Concerning that this observation is silent

  • Uncomfortable that third parties put “things” on their computers without explicit permission

  • Offended by being stereotyped by advertisers because online activity is not an accurate representation of a person

    • Ex: research

Users’ OBA Cons continued…

  • Uncomfortable that clicking something on accident or someone else using their computer is included in their profile

  • Insecure: what else can people learn about them through their computers?

    • Many believed that advertisers have access to personally identifiable information which can be given to another party and/or used maliciously

  • Equivalent to someone following you around watching everything you do

    • Changes your behavior if you know you’re being watched

Who Does the Collecting Matters

  • Familiar company Google vs. unfamiliar company BlueKai

    • Users trust that Google is not mal-intentioned

  • A company with too much user information

    • Google collecting info can help in search but need to be careful when drawing the line because they also manage email and documents

  • Reputation as a viable corporation

    • Yahoo and AOL not trustworthy because they are not as financially stable and may do unpredictable things with users’ data in desperation

    • Microsoft is untrustworthy because people don’t like their products

Users’ Methods to Stop OBA

  • Delete browsing history: cookies and cache

  • Depend on computer security tools

    • anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, firewalls, proxies, Linux

  • Web browser should support controlling OBA

    • Private browsing

    • Unaware of plugins or specific software

  • Ignore the ads

    • Ad-blocking software, unsubscribing from emails

    • Never clicking on ads

  • Websites should be able to stop OBA

    • Unsure if they exist but they should oversee online marketing

  • None were aware of self-regulatory websites, opt-out programs, or “Do Not Track”

Users’ Conclusions

  • Mixed bag

    • OBA can help users find deals when planning a vacation, but advertisers can know when the consumers aren’t home

  • OBA is okay situationally

    • Reading the news vs. researching STD symptoms

  • Desired solutions

    • Less distracting and interfering advertising

    • Explicit user feedback: Have companies inquire about user interests as opposed to collecting user behavior

    • More awareness of how everything works

Notice and Choice

  • Industry self-regulation

    • Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA)

    • Network Advertising Initiative (NAI)

  • Goal: give users notice about OBA and the choice to opt-out so they have more control over their privacy

  • DAA principles:

    • Consumer Control

      • Opt-out of targeted advertisements

    • Transparency

      • Advertising option icon

More Effective Notice and Choice

  • Better communicate that icons and text signals are meant for customers and are not solicitations for advertisers

  • Change location so that icon does not seem like part of the ad that could provide more information

  • Give users more choices to meet their expectations

    • Users believed that they could make choices about the types of ads they could receive, and they should be able to specify interest categories or correct incorrect profiles

  • Create different opt-out methods or better inform users about current opt-out methods

    • Many believed in simply deleting their cookies, but that would actually counteract opt-out cookie mechanisms

    • Current methods, such as clicking on the icon or visiting another website, are counterintuitive

Ad Choices

More Effective Notice and Choice cont…

  • Better inform users of how tracking occurs whether or not they interact with the advertisement

    • Users instinctively avoid clicking on ads to avoid being tracked, but that is currently how they can control OBA

  • Emphasize the difference between security and privacy

    • Inform users that OBA is not related to viruses

  • Stress the difference between company services and advertising

    • The Windows OS is different from Microsoft Advertising, so users should not make decisions based on companies’ products.

  • Allow for more situational OBA

    • OBA can be more or less appropriate depending on the browsing context, for both privacy reasons and usefulness.

    • Users should be able to specify which topics are available for data collection.

  • Encourage browsers to meet user expectation or make users aware of current browser tools


  • Most users are partially or fully against OBA

    • “smart but creepy”

    • OBA is not as dangerous as users think it is

  • Attitudes influenced by:

    • Incorrect assumptions of what and how much data is collected

    • Misunderstanding of the parties involved in OBA and how they operate

    • Misconstruing the profiling technology

  • Current notice and choice methods are failing

    • Users should be properly informed of the practice of tailoring advertising

    • Users should be aware of how to control OBA

  • Current methods to control OBA are limited and difficult to use

  • Users’ understanding of OBA need to be considered in notice and choice mechanisms

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