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It's about the size of one sequin, and nowhere near as eye-catching. The little blue triangle with the "i" inside in the corner of online ads, is a tiny symbol of a public relations effort by the advertising industry.

The AdChoices program is an attempt to persuade the public to get comfortable with "targeted" ads based on their Web browsing behaviour. But almost three years since its launch, more than 60 per cent of people don't recognize that little symbol.

The Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada (DAAC) has conducted a survey, to be released on Tuesday, to gauge the awareness of the self-regulatory program. Of the 1,000 Canadians surveyed, 38 per cent recognized the blue icon that, when clicked, gives people information about how ads are targeted to them, and gives them options to opt out of targeting. (The recognition was higher among millennials – identified as those aged 18 to 34 for this survey – at 46 per cent.)

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The program is crucial for the ad industry at a time when people who have grown more concerned by the use of their personal data to target ads and the way ads can slow down the Web experience. Many of those people are ignoring ads, developing "banner blindness," or using ad-blocking software to shut it out entirely. Giving consumers the perception of choice and trust in the digital ad ecosystem is the industry's attempt to calm some of that resistance.

"We're starting from zero, building awareness for a whole country," DAAC executive director Julie Ford said, adding that other countries that are part of the global AdChoices effort have shown similar awareness levels: Portugal, at roughly 40 per cent awareness, is among the highest three years into its program; Britain was at 28 per cent in its surveys; and the United States had 32 per cent in its second year.

The DAAC is working on an advertising campaign to try to broaden awareness further. Half of those surveyed (and 58 per cent of millennials) said they viewed targeted advertising more favourably after reading a description of the AdChoices program, even if they didn't recognize the icon. So the industry has a stake in advertising the program further.

Here are the main findings:

  • 54 per cent: survey respondents who reported a higher level of trust in brands using the Canadian AdChoices program.

The survey also looked at people's understanding of targeted ads:

  • 68 per cent: those surveyed who recognize that they are shown some ads based on tracking of their Web browsing habits (among millennials, the number was 77 per cent)
  • 67 per cent: understand that “data is used to guess my interests” (75 per cent among millennials)
  • 65 per cent: understand that “data about me is collected online” (71 per cent among millennials)
  • 53 per cent: understand that “ads support free services” (68 per cent among millennials)
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