With all the recent noise over the FTC guidelines regarding product reviews and testimonials from bloggers, you might have overlooked another discussion the FTC has spearheaded about letting users know about profiling and tracking activities that web sites perform.
Here’s how it works. A site (or a collection of sites run by the same entity) gather profile information on their visitors. They watch where the user goes on the site and also gather data more explicitly through account creation and progressive disclosure (this last bit means the site asks more questions as you do more with it). Over time this data about you is number crunched into a profile that indicates what you might be interested in and when you visit the site again a targeted ad, based on your interests is shown to you.
An example could be, let’s say I visit an electronics site and I particularly visit pages on netbooks and low powered computers. The site recognizes this and shows me an ad for a netbook rather than a high end computer suitable for a gamer. Someone else might see a different ad based on their browsing behavior, or even previous buying behavior.
This is not a new concept, Amazon has been doing similar things for a while. It is still recommending video games to me based on a purchase a year ago. However what’s new is that the FTC wants sites to show a certain icon making it clear to the user that this profiling is going on.
To me this is an interesting UX (user experience) challenge, as somehow you have to wrap into an icon the notion that this is a “smart” ad that knows something about you. The wrong approach might just creep people out.
Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.