Privacy Watchdog Ensures Consumers Have Ad Choices as They Switch from Laptop to Mobile and Back

BBB enforces self-regulation in new world of cross-device advertising

Arlington, VA – December 11, 2017 – The typical consumer owns at least three devices—a personal laptop, cell phone, tablet, and often an office computer. We all switch seamlessly among these devices throughout the day. And advertisers follow us on this daily device journey with ads reflecting our online habits (interest-based ads or IBA) on any and all of these devices. So if we were browsing for that vacation in Hawaii on our mobile phone, we aren’t surprised when—aloha—a couple of travel bargains pop up on the laptop we are now using. Today, self-regulatory enforcement moves to this new space as the Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program (Accountability Program) issues its first decision requiring IBA in the cross-device world to be transparent to consumers and give them the opportunity to control this advertising.

Self-regulation of digital advertising has kept its promise to provide transparency and consumer control through the technical innovations that have taken place since the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising were first created. That was a desktop world. As consumers switched to a mobile-first world, self-regulation followed with the DAA’s Mobile Guidance. In response to the new multi-device world, the DAA extended its self-regulatory principles to cover cross-device IBA. Under the new Cross-Device Guidance, companies that associate multiple devices with a consumer or household and collect and use data for IBA across those devices must provide transparency and consumer control on each device that a consumer uses. Companies should ensure their privacy disclosures clearly explain that they engage in cross-device IBA, how the relevant data is used, and what consumers need to do to opt out. Crucially, as summarized by the DAA in a blog post about the new guidance, “[n]o browsing and usage data may flow into or out of that device/browser for the purposes of IBA” after the point where a consumer chooses to opt out. We think of the opted-out device as a “black hole” from which no data for IBA can escape and into which no IBA ads can go.

The Accountability Program’s inaugural case enforcing the Cross-Device Guidance focuses on LKQD, a video advertising technology company. While testing a popular women’s period tracker app that had been downloaded over one million times, the Accountability Program observed LKQD collecting data for IBA. Following a review of LKQD’s practices and privacy disclosures, the Accountability Program found that the company did not meet the requirements for transparency and control under the Mobile Guidance or the Cross-Device Guidance, which came into effect shortly after we began speaking with the company.

”The LKQD case touches on the major self-regulatory requirements for transparency and consumer control under the full suite of DAA Principles,” said Jon Brescia, Director of Adjudications and Technology for the Accountability Program. “We urge all companies engaged in IBA to read the case as a summary and review of the basic self-regulatory principles as enforced by the Accountability Program throughout the third-party advertising ecosystem.”

To come into compliance with the full suite of DAA Principles, LKQD worked diligently with the Accountability Program to improve its privacy notices and mobile opt-out mechanism. LKQD licensed the DAA’s AdChoices Icon and made its opt out accessible on the DAA’s WebChoices page and AppChoices app. LKQD also took steps to ensure that the interest-based ads it served in the future would contain the AdChoices Icon. Moreover, LKQD revised its privacy policy to meet the standards of the DAA’s Cross-Device Guidance by providing notice of this type of data collection as well as methods for users to opt out of each type of device that LKQD uses to power its cross-device IBA.

“In the quickly moving world of digital technology, accountable, enforceable self-regulation has proven its worth in protecting consumers while spurring innovation,” said Genie Barton, VP of Digital Advertising for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “Digital innovations bring economic and social benefits to consumers and businesses alike. Public enforcement builds trust between companies and consumers. We are proud to serve as an enforcement agent in the digital advertising marketplace. We commend LKQD for demonstrating its commitment to consumer privacy and for its support of self-regulation.”

Today’s case release brings to 85 the public actions taken by the Accountability Program.