Accountability Program brings up-front notice of tailored advertising to websites, mobile apps

Arlington, VA – January 28, 2019 – Today, the Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program released new decisions detailing its efforts to bring website publishers into compliance with the Digital Advertising Alliance’s Self-Regulatory Principles, which outline best practices for digital ad privacy. The privacy watchdog’s latest actions are the result of consumer complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau and focus on providing enhanced notice to end users when they interact with the websites of popular brands.

Publishers Clearing House, a direct marketing company that hosts sweepstakes, contests and games, came to the Accountability Program’s attention through consumer complaints received by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. In response to these complaints, the Accountability Program opened an inquiry into PCH’s privacy practices. The inquiry established that PCH’s homepage allowed third-party advertising companies to collect data for targeted advertising but did not provide real-time, “enhanced” notice to end users. The Accountability Program also found that a third-party company was collecting precise location data through one of PCH’s mobile apps, raising a possible issue with PCH’s compliance with the Mobile Guidance.

Once PCH received the Accountability Program’s inquiry letter, the company immediately committed itself to compliance with the DAA Principles and worked to remedy its issues. Specifically, PCH:

  • updated its website footer to provide enhanced notice to its website visitors;
  • modified its privacy disclosures so users could receive enhanced notice when they visited its mobile apps’ pages in the Apple and Google app stores; and
  • updated the relevant mobile app to disable collection of precise location data by third-party advertisers, as the company never intended for this to occur and was unaware that this collection had been occurring.

Today’s second case concerns the website for the e-cigarette brand blu, owned by the Dutch company Fontem, Inc. The Accountability Program contacted Fontem after receiving consumer complaints indicating that individuals had found it difficult to opt out of ads for blu’s products following visits to the blu website. Fontem acknowledged that third parties were collecting data on their website for IBA and agreed to come into compliance with the DAA Principles. Consequently, Fontem added to the blu website footer an enhanced notice link directing consumers to a page where they can learn more about IBA and access an opt-out tool.

“Both PCH and Fontem stepped up when we contacted them,” said Jon Brescia, Director of Adjudications & Technology for the Accountability Program. “We appreciate both companies’ eagerness to comply with the DAA Principles.”

Today’s case release brings to 97 the public actions taken by the Accountability Program.