Accountability Program Achieves Voluntary Compliance With Online Behavioral Advertising Self-Regulation

Arlington, VA – Nov. 8, 2011 – The Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program (Accountability Program) today released decisions in its first six compliance cases. This signals the Accountability Program’s initiation of formal enforcement of the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising (Principles).  Each company has voluntarily modified its practices to comply with the Principles.  Policies and procedures for the Accountability Program are set by the National Advertising Review Council (NARC). The program is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB).

“The Accountability Program is charged with providing objective, independent, and vigorous oversight and enforcement of the Principles,” said Genie Barton, CBBB Vice President and Director of the Accountability Program. “Our goal is to promote compliance with the Principles by all companies within the advertising ecosystem.  We are encouraged that each of the companies under review has participated in the self-regulatory process and quickly brought their practices into compliance.  Successful self-regulation depends on participation, cooperation, and prompt compliance.”

“Where companies do not self-monitor and promptly correct problems,” Ms. Barton added, “they can expect the Accountability Program to take action.”

The key provisions of the Principles, Transparency and Consumer Control, provide consumers with enhanced notice and choice regarding the collection and use of their data for online behavioral advertising (OBA).

As each case notes,   “All companies have the obligation to monitor their data collection and advertising practices to ensure compliance with the Principles, including ensuring that their notice and choice mechanisms are fully compliant with the Principles at all times.”

The Accountability Program’s inaugural inquiries focused on the Consumer Control Principle which requires that companies provide consumers with an easy-to-use mechanism for exercising their choice.  To comply, a company’s choice mechanism must be fully functional, clearly disclosed to users, and the opt-out cookie must be set to the industry standard minimum of five years from the date that the consumer exercises choice.

Starting in August, the Accountability Program repeatedly tested the functionality, usability, and duration of consumer-choice mechanisms offered by a number of companies across five Internet browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera. Compliance requires an easy-to-use and reliable choice mechanism.  As a result of that testing, the Accountability Program opened self-regulatory inquiries with Forbes Media Extension (FMX), Martini Media, PredictAd, QuinStreet, Reedge and Veruta.

The Accountability Program determined that:

FMX’s opt-out was set to expire in less than six months from the date of the request. Upon receipt of the Accountability Program’s inquiry, the company stated that it would quickly change the opt-out cookie’s expiration date to the five-year time frame that is the industry standard. In addition, the opt-out process took three to four minutes when accessed from Internet Explorer. The company took steps to remedy this delay.

Martini Media’s opt-out was set to expire less than six months from the date of the request. In response to the Accountability Program’s inquiry, the company stated that it would change the opt-out cookie’s expiration date to conform to the industry standard.

PredictAd’s opt-out was set to expire one month from the date of the request. In response to the Accountability Program’s inquiry, the company reported that PredictAd was no longer an active brand providing services to its partners, but would nonetheless change the expiration date of the PredictAd legacy system to meet the industry standard.

QuinStreet’s “Opt Out Now” buttons on four tested browsers were either missing, preventing consumers from exercising choice,  or appeared as broken images that could potentially confuse consumers. Tests using the Safari browser found the “OPT OUT NOW” button to be clearly visible and the opt-out request successfully processed. In response to the Accountability Program’s inquiry, the company stated that it took immediate steps to correct the problem and ensure their opt-out button was properly displayed and functioning across each of the five browsers.

Reedge’s opt-out mechanism was set to expire one year from the date of the request.  Upon notification by the Accountability Program, the company extended the duration of the opt-out mechanism to five years, consistent with the industry standard.

Veruta’s (MyBuys) opt-out mechanism was inaccessible to consumers through its web site due to a missing link. Upon receipt of the Accountability Program’s inquiry, the company stated that the opt-out link was inadvertently omitted during a software upgrade and that it took immediate steps to correct the problem and provide the required opt-out mechanism.