Quite a few projects have shown how clear marks, or badges, on web pages can convey a lot of meaning very quickly. In my experience, the Creative Commons badge instantly signals an intent to share, to allow re-use and re-distribution, that in certain circles is nearly instantaneously recognized. It is understandable when new efforts want to achieve a similar, almost visceral recognition.
Saul Hansell at the New York Times’ Bits blog describes work being done at the prodding of the Federal Trade Commission to develop a visual signal for targeted advertising. While the FTC has prompted this work, it seems to be of a piece with the advertising industry’s recent efforts to self regulate to avoid legislation or FTC rule making.
As a consequence, the icon and simplified text being developed and tested speaks to advertising practice, not privacy risk. I was immensely discouraged to hear that early focus groups didn’t even know about basic tracking and targeting practices.
the initial focus groups they conducted showed that the vast majority of people didn’t have any idea that the ads they saw online were picked based on things like where they have surfed in the past.
I guess it is no small wonder that the FTC feels that even simpler, more clear communications around these practices are needed beyond the existing, and largely useless, privacy policies.
It remains to be seen what the FTC adopts out of the industry developed recommendations. Hansell’s article merely discusses one effort that might be used from one industry backed group. These efforts won’t necessarily enhance consumer privacy, bear in mind, just hopefully make practices that potentially impact that privacy more visible and more easily recognized.