The holidays are coming. An evergreen conifer will be staying with us again over the festive period. Somewhere underneath its tinselled foliage, our oldest child is hoping to find a new watch. Extensive online research is underway. Watch ads have been popping up across different devices in our house. No longer are we private investigators!

As consumers, we have become increasingly concerned about privacy and the use of our data. We want greater control over the third-party tracking of our online activities. It’s not simply about my relationship with the good people of Time2Buy. Which companies were involved in delivering their watch ads to my device? Which of them are dropping tracking cookies into my browser? Can I trust them too?

On the other side of this trust divide, advertisers want to reach consumers with relevant messages, leveraging online behavioural data. (If Timewatch UK has a better deal, I’m in the market and I want to know.) They will partner with companies which can help bring those messages to potentially relevant audiences. Do I want to entrust multiple third parties with data on my online activities? The focus on trust is sharper than ever, a trust built on transparency and respecting the consumers’ choices.

Launched in October 2012, the European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance (EDAA) delivers a self-regulatory programme for companies involved in online behavioural advertising (OBA). The EDAA’s Framework has trust at its heart. Certified companies are trusted to provide clear information to consumers, to handle their data appropriately and to act on their choices. These choices can be made through the EDAA’s consumer choice platform,

We’ve supported this programme as a verification provider since its launch, issuing the EDAA Trust Seal to more than 50 companies. As part of our work, we become consumers. We monitor how tracking cookies are dropped and how they change to reflect opt-out. We verify how the EDAA’s Ad Choices Icon is presented to users on and around display and video ads in browsers and apps. We see how users’ interactions with the Icon can result in education and choice.

Based on the EDAA 2019 survey[1] results presented by MTM at the EDAA’s October 2019 Summit, GDPR has impacted users’ relationship with their online data. Across the 5,000 European users surveyed, the pattern was clear. As awareness and understanding of GDPR increase, users’ knowledge of online data and their comfort with sharing data and seeing OBA also increase.

97% are aware that data are used for delivering online ads, but 72% want to find out more. 59% preferred tailored advertising experiences. 53% felt they had easy access to explanations of how advertising companies collect and use information about them. These figures follow a pleasingly upward trend compared to past survey data. With these messages in mind, the EDAA recognises in any case that work must continue to heighten trust and transparency.

The Ad Choices Icon was delivered over 159 billion times in 2018 in Europe[2]. 1 in 3 consumers in the EDAA Survey indicated that they had used the Icon. So, increasing numbers of European consumers recognise the Icon, but may not understand its role. EDAA’s new measures are intended to improve consumer education. There is a clear balance to be struck here. Consumers need enough information to make appropriate choices. They do not need to be bombarded with small print, overloaded to the point of confusion and potentially, mistrust. The EDAA recognises this challenge.

EDAA’s planned developments will also address the need for greater transparency. According to the EDAA survey results, 53% of consumers are happy to exchange some information in order to access specific websites and services. 54% trust that organisations use information about them in a legal, responsible way.[1] The same consumers may not appreciate the number of organisations involved in delivering targeted advertising to their devices. As part of its enhanced programme, the EDAA will enable consumers to see the range of companies gathering data and building an audience for a targeted ad.

Companies achieving the EDAA Trust Seal have opened up their OBA policies and processes to independent verification by providers like us. Delivering ads to relevant audiences must surely impact the likelihood of direct engagement with ads and enhanced brand awareness. This relationship with the consumer must be built on trust through transparency and respecting the consumer’s choices.

Once again, we have respected our son’s choices. Watch bought and festive joy secured. Time to turn on, tune in and opt-out. Maybe I can stop looking over my shoulder when I open a browser at home. Except that now I need to investigate new trainers, so some relevant footwear ads would be great right now. It’s panto season and I’m up for some audience participation. And before you suggest otherwise, oh yes, I am.

For more information on the EDAA and other industry initiatives please visit our guide to online standards


[1] EDAA Survey, March 2019 - MTM

[2] Evidon and TrustArc, 2018