Trying to ward off regulators, the advertising industry has agreed on a standard icon — a little “i” — that it will add to most online ads that use demographics and behavioral data to tell consumers what is happening.
Jules Polonetsky, the co-chairman and director of the Future of Privacy Forum, an advocacy group that helped create the symbol, compared it to the triangle made up of three arrows that tells consumers that something is recyclable.
From this summer in the US, people will be able to tell more about how their behaviour information is being used by media and advertisers to target them by clicking on a little “i” in the corner of display ads.
My sense is that the “i” symbol will simultaneously assuage fears and broaden the debate(s) around online privacy. While many will be happier about the openness of advertisers, for the mainstream user unaware that their clickstream, social graph and search history may informing the ads they see it will represent a new and troubling aspect of web use. Expect in the short term for ad-blocking apps and privacy opt-outs to become more popular.
In the longer term though, it will all be for the best.
Ultimately a better informed, more digitally literate society will make choices about how privacy and relationship between citizens, corporations and government will work. Better that literacy raises sooner so that the dominant voices in debates that may shape legislation are not just those of the advertising and media industries. The implications for our web future are too important for that to be the case.