Privacy-conscious consumers who want to opt-out of mobile ads may be finally getting a solution—or at least the beginnings of one.
At the ad:tech marketing conference in San Francisco on Tuesday (April 3), privacy firm TRUSTe is set to announce that it is launching a first-of-its-kind privacy management tool for mobile platforms.
The idea behind the new product—called TRUSTed Mobile Ads—is to provide consumers a unified way of learning that they are being tracked on the mobile Web and via mobile apps, and an opportunity to opt-out of mobile advertising and data collection. Mobile publishers can integrate the TRUSTed Mobile Ad opt-out functionality within their apps via a mobile SDK (software development kit) so that ultimately consumers will begin to encounter a uniform, consistent opt-out process for mobile ads.
"This is the first ability to set true preferences by the consumer around ad targeting at the app and at the mobile Web level," said TRUSTe CEO Chris Babel. "It really gives flexibility to the consumer to manage this in a way they don't have today."
When a consumer downloads a Mobile Ads-compatible app for the first time, they'll be immediately asked about their privacy preferences via a pop up; TRUSTe's mobile ad tools leverage an open, universal identification mechanism called a Trusted Preference Identifier (TPID) via which users can convey their privacy preferences to TRUSTe and any other mobile ad networks or analytics firms that might be interested in targeting them.
Plus, from any mobile ad, Web page or app that uses TRUSTe's technology, consumers can access a preference screen (via a persistent TRUSTe icon) to opt-out of targeting from any or all of the participating companies. At launch, TRUSTe said it has a handful of mobile advertisers, publishers, networks and platforms as partners, including Electronic Arts, Millennial Media, Medialets, Nexage, Greystripe, JiWire, InMobi, Human Demand and HasOffers.
While the digital ad industry has advanced technical and self-regulatory frameworks around desktop privacy, those efforts have not translated well to the app-centric environment common to mobile devices. Over the past year, the mobile privacy debate has heated up as consumers and regulators have become more aware of just how much data can be accessed by tech giants like Apple and Google, the developers who create the thousands of popular apps and the digital advertising industry. Apple's recent decision to reject applications that access the UDID (unique device identifier) is further evidence that the industry needs to start taking mobile privacy more seriously.
“With the introduction of TRUSTed Mobile Ads, TRUSTe and its mobile partners are responding to a need for a standardized privacy management solution in the mobile marketing channel,” Stu Ingis, general counsel for the Digital Advertising Alliance, said in a statement. “Regardless of the channel, the success of any online privacy program requires the support of multiple industry players. The DAA is working on standards that will ensure consumers are aware of their choices regarding the collection of data in the mobile environment—providing trust through transparency.” TRUSTe said its new tool is consistent with the principles of the DAA's AdChoices program for desktop advertising and was created with input from the Mobile Marketing Association.
A survey last month from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that 68 percent of Internet users don't like having their online behavior tracked for targeted advertising. And a 2011 report from TRUSTe found that almost two-thirds of U.S. consumers worry about their privacy when using mobile apps.
But Babel acknowledged that consumers' awareness of privacy concerns is not as sophisticated around mobile platforms as it is for desktop use. Further, to really be effective, TRUSTe's new product needs buy-in from many more players in a very fragmented and expansive mobile ecosystem.
Still, Babel argued, just as the DAA's AdChoices program helped build awareness from the average desktop consumer, this new product could help boost attention from mobile users.
"They've maybe seen a scary story in the press around their contact list being accessed by someone, and they're starting to have concerns around what these apps are doing now," he said. "And I think this is a way to start educating them."