How much do consumers understand ad-targeting?

Complaints in the latest Advertising Standards of Canada's annual Compliance Report show that Canadians still don't understand the process.

How much do consumers understand about how they’re being tracked online?

Advertising Standards of Canada (ASC) is trying to make sure more websites make the ways they are tracking clear. In its annual Compliance Report issued Feb. 8 by the ASC, it looked at how different Canadian websites adhered to the standards of the AdChoices program.

The AdChoices program was brought to Canada in 2013 by the Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada (DAAC) after similar programs had gained notable traction in the U.S. and Europe.

The good news is that more sites have signed on as participants in the program — 79 websites to date have signed on as participants, doubling from last year.

In all, 59% of the participating websites in Canada’s program offered notices about tracking and targeted advertising, a total that has quadrupled since 2015. Another 80% of third-party ad tech companies (such as display advertising networks) gave some form of notice or opt-out mechanism. In testing the opt-out features on participating websites, most were found to be functioning as they should be.

The program may be proving to be influential. ASC also identified 30 popular French and English websites, all operated by non-participating companies in the AdChoices Program. While 87% of participants in the program provided disclosure of ad tracking activity on their websites, that was up against the 77% of non-participating companies that did  so. Real-time notice of data collection was found in 90% of participating sites, compared to 31% of non-participating sites. The ability to opt-out saw the largest difference between participating and non-participating sites  — 67% of participants provided an opt-out notice and 95% provided an op-out mechanism, while 4% of non-participants provided a notice and 96% provided an opt-out mechanism.

But how much is increased participation from sites helping Canadians’ understanding?

While the report noted that Canadian consumers were more vigilant of potential violations (283 complaints were issued during the year, up from 142 the year before), only 8% were found to be of concern for the ASC. A total of 77% were about not wanting to see ads at all (which the ASC can not control) and the report noted that a number of those complaints incorrectly cited a malfunctioning opt-out feature (the most complainants believed that an opt-out feature would stop all ads from appearing).

The ASC has previously noted a lack of understanding from consumers about the program — in July, it issued a mid-year report that looked at how much Canadians understood the AdChoices program itself. Of the 1,000 participants surveyed, only 38% recognized the AdChoices icon (a small blue triangle with an “i” inside it, which sits on top of ads that actively target users). Millennial respondents ranked highest in their recognition of the logo at 46%.

The dislike of advertising is not exactly a new phenomenon — in last week’s talk at Ad Week, Addictive Mobility COO Andrew Opala detailed the long and complicated history between consumers and advertising, noting that feeling “followed” by ads generally results in less engagement over time, and was one of the big factors in Canadians installing ad-blockers.


Image: Shutterstock