Privacy watchdog sniffs out websites’ compliance violations

Accountability Program brings companies into compliance with Principles

Arlington, VA – September 22, 2016 The Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program continues to enforce industry best practices for privacy, releasing three new decisions today that are the results of consumer complaints. The cases, Dropbox, Harte Hanks, and Panasonic, concerned websites’ compliance under the desktop-focused Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising.

As part of its enforcement efforts, the Accountability Program responds to complaints from consumers who are concerned about their privacy online. Following complaints about the absence of enhanced notice on the websites of Panasonic, a consumer electronics company, Dropbox, a cloud storage vendor, and Harte Hanks, a multichannel marketing services firm, the Accountability Program opened formal inquiries into their practices. It found that Panasonic, Dropbox, and Harte Hanks failed to provide the requisite notice and enhanced notice to consumers on their websites. After consulting with the Accountability Program, the companies came into compliance with the first-party requirements of the Digital Advertising Alliance’s Self-Regulatory Principles.

“Today’s decisions demonstrate that the Accountability Program continues to monitor popular sites accessed through desktop computers,” stated Jon Brescia, Director of Adjudications and Technology for the Accountability Program. “Our vigorous enforcement of the Digital Advertising Alliance’s Mobile Guidance over the preceding months represents an extension, not a replacement, of our original mission.”

To meet their obligations, Dropbox, Harte Hanks, and Panasonic added enhanced notice links to their websites that direct users to new interest-based advertising (IBA) disclosure language. These disclosures each explain the third-party data collection occurring on their respective websites and direct consumers to a place where they can opt out of IBA. All companies worked diligently to meet the standards established by the Principles.

Enhanced notice—often provided using the AdChoices Icon—is a major component of the OBA Principles. It gives consumers notice at precisely the time when third parties are collecting their browsing data or when they are served an ad based on their perceived interests. Prior to enhanced notice, consumers browsed websites unaware of this background activity. And while it may be commonly associated with the service of interest-based ads, enhanced notice plays an important role in signaling data collection, even when no ads are present. As the parties in the best position to control the contents of their websites, website operators must ensure that enhanced notice is provided when third parties are collecting consumers’ web browsing data for use in IBA.

“The Accountability Program has published a long line of decisions educating web publishers about their responsibility to provide consumers with transparency and choice,” said Genie Barton, VP of Digital Advertising for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “By providing enhanced notice, companies signal to consumers that they want to engage positively with them by putting them in control of IBA.”

Today’s releases bring to 71 the public actions taken by the Accountability Program.