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Aug
22
2011

What’s Under the Hood? Not All Opt-outs Are Created Equal

Matthew Shevach
Director, Product Marketing
@matthewshevach

TRUSTe has always been a big believer in simplifying consumer privacy messaging in mobile, browser and advertising environments.

Privacy, however, is not skin deep.  If brands, ad agencies, platforms and publishers fail to look deeper at the inner workings of platforms, they risk very unhappy surprises.

One such area that needs more attention and programmatic monitoring is the opt-out mechanisms of the ad ecosystem. There are a number of challenges facing web-based opt-outs today (such as those related to “use vs. collection” and persistency issues), however, this post focuses specifically on how ad platforms respond to consumer opt-out cookie requests and what happens when they don’t respond.

TRUSTed Ads, TRUSTe’s DAA/OBA compliance platform, is the only solution of its kind that goes beyond just serving the Advertising Option Icon. When opt-out options are presented to consumers our compliance platform is able to monitor whether those ad platforms are actually responding to consumer requests for opt-outs, and TRUSTe clients using the platform can get the benefit of a real-time dashboard that alerts them to any opt-out response failures.

Does real-time monitoring of opt-outs matter or is it just a bells-n-whistles feature?

Consider these stats:

Based on a one-month sample of approximately 200,000 consumer opt-out requests to 125 of the most frequently-encountered ad platforms, we found that 8% to 10% of opt-out requests failed to issue an opt-out cookie or failed to respond. That means that if a consumer clicks to opt-out then 1 in 10 opt-out requests fail, which is a serious breach of consumer trust.

In our sample, the best performers consistently had failure rates approaching 0% (shout out to folks like: AppNexus, Blue Kai, Dotomi, Forbes, Google, Media6Degrees, and Publishers Clearing House, – just to name a few).

On the other hand, a number of platforms consistently failed to respond to opt-out requests. Even after double-checking the opt-out mechanisms, we saw these poor performers approaching opt-out failure rates of nearly 70%.

This does not necessarily mean these companies are purposely denying consumer opt-outs. Rather, the underlying cause of these systemic failures appears to be technical in nature, varying from broken code, to up-time issues associated with the opt-out mechanisms, to latency causing requests to time-out. One thing is for sure, however: brands, partners or publishers relying on these poor performing platforms are in for some rough privacy seas if they are not examining and validating the inner workings of the platforms they use.

Fortunately, these types of opt-out failure issues are fixable. In many cases, simply understanding that failures are happening is half the battle and thus programmatic opt-out monitoring, like what TRUSTe’s compliance platforms and certifications offer, is critical.

TRUSTe works closely with ad platform providers to help identify and correct the underlying cause of failures based on the monitoring and reporting we have in place. With TRUSTed Ads and TRUSTed Data Collection Certification TRUSTe enables companies go beyond simple icon/notice serving and gives them an under-the-hood view of where their privacy risks really lie and helps them identify who their best online ad partners might be from a privacy point of view.

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