Accountability Program Takes Action on Consumer Complaints

Major brands improve websites to meet industry privacy standards

Arlington, VA – January 25, 2017 – The Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program has released three decisions that give consumers the enhanced notice and choice they complained was missing from the websites of AAA of Northern California, Nevada and Utah, Anheuser-Busch and Wayfair. Under the Digital Advertising Alliance’s Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising, website owners are required to give consumers clear, meaningful, and prominent notice when companies are collecting or using their data for interest-based advertising.

Like the Accountability Program’s last enforcement actions, each of these cases arose from a consumer complaint. The Accountability Program processes roughly 3,000 complaints a year, exercising its discretion to open an inquiry where it detects a substantial compliance violation. As the result of the Accountability Program’s inquiries, the websites of AAA NCNU, a regional club of the American Automobile Association, Budweiser, a beer brand owned by Anheuser-Busch, and Wayfair, an online home furnishings retailer, have all come into full compliance with the DAA Principles, which are the recognized industry standards for IBA.

“We take consumer complaints very seriously, and we are pleased that companies like AAA NCNU, Anheuser-Busch, and Wayfair do, too,” said Jon Brescia, Director of Adjudications and Technology for the Accountability Program. “By working together, consumers, companies, and self-regulatory bodies can make the market function better, to everyone’s benefit.”

Enhanced notice, a real-time signal that IBA activity is occurring, is a core component of the DAA Principles, as third-party data collection on the web would otherwise be invisible to consumers without special tools. The enhanced notice is linked directly to disclosures about IBA and an opt-out mechanism. This ensures that consumers get the information they need to make choices about IBA at exactly the times they need it: when web browsing data is collected or used for IBA.

Enhanced notice is commonly seen on interest-based ads themselves, often in the form of the familiar AdChoices Icon in the corner of the ad. This in-ad enhanced notice requirement is well-understood by the advertising industry. However, some companies, including major brands such as those in today’s cases, remain unaware that data collection occurring on their sites—even where no ads are served—can trigger the need for enhanced notice. Under the DAA Principles, both first and third parties have an independent responsibility to provide enhanced notice when data is collected or used for IBA.

“Consumer trust is important to every brand. Giving their customers clear notice about the brand’s IBA practices builds and maintains that trust,” Genie Barton, CBBB VP of Digital Advertising, explained. “The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to help create an ethical and trusted marketplace. The Accountability Program is one of the ways BBB accomplishes this mission.”

Today’s releases bring to 74 the public actions taken by the Accountability Program.