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The Power I: Not a PlayStation Peripheral, but a Targeted Ad Disclaimer

The Future of Privacy Forum, an advertising trade group, has come up with an answer to those that have been calling for regulation of targeted online advertising: a lowercase “i,” curled up in its own tail, in the manner of another familiar Internet related punctuation mark.  The graphic is projected to be in use by the end of this summer.

Both Congress and the FTC have expressed concerns about the level of secrecy or obfuscation surrounding target online advertising tactics, where the user’s browser history and “demographic profile” are used to generate a more personally targeted add.  Advertisers are understandably worried that regulatory legislation would not move as fast as technological changes, and you know what that means: focus groups!  Among the other icons considered instead of the “Power I” was a man-shaped asterisk, known as “Asterisk Man,” the most useless superhero since Melt Man, but sometimes very informative. According to the New York Times, Advertisers plan to add the icon to their adds “along with phrases like ‘Why did I get this ad?’”

When consumers click on the icon, a white ‘i’ surrounded by a circle on a blue background, they will be taken to a page explaining how the advertiser uses their Web surfing history and demographic profile to send them certain ads.

Of course, companies are not legally required to use “Power I” in their adds, but those who belong to the Future of Privacy Forum make up a “large percentage of the marketplace,” according to Stuart P. Ingis, attorney for the trade group.

Self-regulation is not a new phenomenon, and so the question is how to think about the symbol in light of history. Is it, as the New York Times implies, most like the recycling symbol, a graphic so ubiquitous as to be nearly synonymous with environmentalism? Or will it be more like the Comics Code Seal, the icon of a self-regulatory organization that throttled the progress of American comics for two decades? Or will it be like the hallowed nutrition label, except this time you are giving the company information on what you’re consuming, not the other way around.  We’ll just have to wait and see if anybody notices it at all.  After all, it’s a little lowercase i, not an oddly mesmerizing bit of dancing CGI.

Original New York Times article here.

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