AT&T to test transparent Internet banner ads this month

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AT&T will test Internet banner ads this month with increased transparency about what consumer data the company is tracking. The ads will include an icon that consumers can click to find out how their data is being tracked.

The ads will not be campaign-specific, but will run in any AT&T banner served using behavioral targeting.

“We have been considering this approach for several months and thinking about the benefits of it and the risks associated with it,” said Stephen Governale, executive director of interactive and innovation at AT&T. “Ultimately we decided that this is an opportunity for AT&T. We thought it was the right thing to do.”

AT&T is working with GroupM's Mediaedge agency and a company called Better Advertising to serve these transparent ads, which are scheduled to launch in coming weeks. Better Advertising bills itself as an “intermediary between consumers, advertisers, industry self-regulatory programs and the government.”

The firm launched last year after an industry coalition of groups, including the Direct Marketing Association, the Internet Advertising Bureau and holding company WPP began pushing back on Federal Trade Commission inquiries on self-regulation.

“The industry needed an independent, third-party company to help address the issues and give consumers control over how their data is collected and used,” said Scott Meyer, founder and CEO of Better Advertising.

The company is using a technology called “Power Eye,” which allows brands to include an icon that consumers can click to find out more information about the advertiser and the other companies involved in serving that ad, such as an agency, ad network and portal. The page tells consumers how their data is being used and by whom. Consumers are also given the option to opt-out of being tracked.

“You can click on the icon and an overlay will tell you who the advertiser is, who the ad network is, and give you the privacy policy for all of the companies involved,” added Meyer.

Governale says that there could be risks to using the ad units.

"One of the risks would be people opting out at a high rate, which could make some of our targeting less relevant," he said. However, Governale expects that consumers will appreciate the transparency and stay opted in to receive more relevant ads. If all goes well, AT&T will use the service on an ongoing basis. Governale added that the company is open to testing other tools that might help it give more information to consumers about how their behavior is being tracked.

Better Advertising is using the “I” icon that was first released in beta by industry groups in February. Industry experts expect the icon to debut this summer and be managed by the DMA and the Better Advertising Bureau.

“We are close to releasing the self regulatory program for online behavioral advertising that gives consumers notice and choice,” said Linda Woolley, EVP for government affairs at the DMA. “It is an icon that would actually be placed in and around an ad.”

Better Advertising plans to switch to the officially approved icon once it is released.

“We have been selected to provide the monitoring for the accountability mechanisms coming out from the BBB and the DMA,” said Meyer. “We will use whatever they endorse.”

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