Clay Turk
Product Manager | TRUSTe
@clayturk

Double Coverage

In the world of online advertising, where tracking cookies and behaviorally targeted ads reign supreme, an industry initiative arose to meet the need of providing users notice and choice around such activity. This initiative came in the form of the DAA’s self-regulatory program for OBA, which licensed several companies, such as TRUSTe, to create and serve an in-ad notice for users to initiate opt outs from such tracking and targeting. The main asset utilized for this notice is the AdChoices icon, that little blue triangle with the letter ‘i’ in it that resides in the corner of targeted ads.

When icons were first being introduced to OBA, all icon providers typically ran in the top right corner of the ad to prevent icon collisions. Collisions being the result of multiple AdChoices icons being served on the same creative, from different icon providers. This industry standard changed earlier this year when certain adjustments were requested by various advertisers to accommodate creative design components, such as replay, legal, or branding symbols. Today icons can be placed in any of the four corners of an ad, and in TRUSTe’s case, can even be offset from those corners to a specific coordinate within the ad space.

It is not uncommon for there to be more than one AdChoices icon present on a creative, especially in today’s fragmented ad serving ecosystem. An icon can be added at myriad layers, by anyone who touches the ad chain, be it at creative, trafficking or API integrated levels. While usually a non-issue, when it happens it can result in the wrong interstitial messaging appearing, typically where the Advertiser/Brand has specific verbiage they wish to present to the user around their targeting practices.

Example of Double Icons

Why is this a problem? Well for starters it can grossly affect the look and branding of a creative, provide a confusing user experience, and can add additional and unnecessary costs to ad campaigns. In addition, with so many parties involved in the ad chain, there is no programmatic control over which icons should display.

To make matters more complex, some advertisers run variations of the icon itself; be it full sized, hover expand, or gray scale, on top of each having their own custom messaging. This would be an issue in the case where an agency applies their own icon at a creative level; the tags get passed to a network, which applies their icon, and then on to a publisher site that also applies their icon. In this particular case, the last icon appended would “win”, assuming all z-indexes’ being equal. It is also important to note that in each of these steps the icon is applied programmatically, often without any actual previewing.

Recognizing that this is a problem for the industry, TRUSTe has been working on a framework that can be applied across the entire eco-system. Our solution is essentially a priority system, which works off of a numerical value to dynamically decide which icon should display.  We developed this to be icon provider agnostic, so that anyone involved in serving an icon can take part.

A value parameter is applied to all of our clients, down to an advertiser level, which when added to the DOM, is dynamically read by any other present TRUSTe icons that may appear on the same creative. Basic logic is applied to decide which icon should be displayed, while the others gracefully turn themselves off.  This method is able to handle complex scenarios where a single client may represent multiple brands, with multiple icons, where each brand has a different priority setting.

This feature was designed with iFrame tags in mind, as these tend to be used more often, and create a more complicated communication problem that standard javascript can’t solve. For those lost at this point, think of an iFrame as a separate window within the given window of the page you are viewing. It has its own styling, rules and HTML, but appears to be a part of the overall page being viewed. Due to this structure, communication between iFrames has been severely limited for security reasons for a very long time, well at least until HTML5 came along.

Now for the small print, there are a few points everyone should be aware of. First, while all modern browsers support this feature there are some older versions that simply don’t support such communication, however these browsers combined make up about 1.7% of global browser share. And the second is that while we strive for incredibly low latency, in some cases it may take a few extra milliseconds for everything to sort itself out depending on the site and how the ads are rendered.

For those of you who are already our clients you will begin seeing the benefits immediately without any extra work or changes need. If you are interested in learning more about this product or our other solutions you can contact us. If you are a fellow icon provider and want to integrate this solution to help mitigate collisions please contact me for a copy of our integration guide.