Accountability Program Q&A

Q&A: Online Interest-Based Advertising

The Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program regulates behavioral advertising across the Internet. Leading industry associations developed seven principles which businesses are required to follow.

What is online behavioral advertising?

OBA uses information collected across multiple unaffiliated web sites to predict a user’s preferences and display ads most likely to interest consumers.

The Accountability Program is enforcing businesses’ compliance with the principles.

What are the principles?

The principles allow consumers more control over whether advertisers can use their information for targeted advertisements.

What kind of businesses are subject to the principles?

Any organization that collects data on a non-affiliated website and/or uses that data for online advertising. Some examples are: ad networks, data aggregators, website publishers and advertisers.

The Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program is supported by the members of the Digital Advertising Alliance.

Why do I receive ads on the Internet and why do some seem relevant while others seem random?

Online advertising supports the free content and services you use on the Internet.  Some ads you receive are personalized, based on the web sites you have visited online.  This is called interest-based advertising, targeted, or behavioral advertising.

For example, a sporting goods manufacturer might work with an advertising network to deliver ads to consumers who have recently visited sports-related sites. An airline might direct ads to consumers who recently visited travel-themed Web sites.

How does it work?

When you visit particular websites, information is gathered and stored in your browser with the help of small text files called web “cookies.” By using this information, advertising services providers predict your interests and determine which ads may be most relevant to serve you next.

Are advertisers selling my info? Could I get my ID stolen?

Since online behavioral advertising uses profiles based on web viewing habits, the information collected and used in this process is not personally identifiable.  Businesses that collect and use data for this type of advertising do not have access to your personal information.  However, since even your non-identifiable profile is valuable to advertisers, it is often transferred to businesses that help to provide interest-based ads.

Do I have a choice about interest-based advertising?

While many people like receiving relevant ads, some consumers prefer not to have their interests reflected in the ads they receive online.  To give you a better understanding of how interest-based advertising works and to let you control whether or not you receive interest-based ads, industry created the AdChoices Program.  The Accountability Program enforces AdChoices to make sure that all companies provide consumers with notice that they are collecting and using web browsing and to provide consumers with choice.

How do I exercise my choice?

Consumers have several options:

When you see an advertisement that carries the AdChoices icon or AdChoices message, you can click on the icon or AdChoices message to learn more about the ad and how to opt-out from future collection and use of your web browsing data for interest-based advertising.

You can visit the AboutAds consumer choice page to see a list of businesses that collect and use data for OBA purposes and opt out of some or all on the list.

You can set preferences on some Web browsers that enable you to control the delivery of cookies to your computer.

How can the Accountability Program help me exercise my choice?

If you believe a business is following your online browsing history and serving you ads based on that information without giving you notice and choice through the icon or the AdChoices message, we encourage you to fill out the easy-to-use online report form here.

The more information you can give us, the better able we will be to act on your report.  If you can capture screen shots related to your report, you can send them to obacompliance@council.bbb.org as attachments to your report or by separate email.