The Better Business Bureau is reminding online ad companies that they must notify consumers about online behavioral advertising and allow them to opt out, regardless of whether the tracking occurs via cookies, device fingerprinting or other technology.
The BBB's Accountability Program, which enforces the privacy rules, said in a compliance warning issued on Thursday that the industry's behavioral-advertising principles “are applicable and will continue to be enforced irrespective of the technology employed to collect and use consumer Web surfing activity to serve interest-based ads.”
The self-regulatory code requires ad companies to notify consumers via an icon when their data is collected across sites and let consumers opt out of receiving ads based on that data.
“As new 'cookie-less' technologies increasingly replace the more familiar 'cookies' in the delivery of personalized advertising across multiple screens, consumers must continue to receive real-time 'enhanced' notice and an easy-to-use and effective opt-out mechanism,” the BBB's warning states.
The move was prompted by the increase in number of companies boasting that they can offer advertisers “cross-device” tracking, says vice-president Genie Barton. That type of tracking often relies on device fingerprinting and other non-cookie technologies.
“People have moved into a multiscreen environment,” Barton says. "This is the model of the future -- and of today. It's not a cookie model.”
She adds that companies are increasingly “trying to sell advertising as a seamless multidevice or multiplatform proposition.”
Barton says that companies that track people's Web-surfing activity on desktops and laptops -- and draw on that data to serve ads on smartphones and tablets -- need to inform consumers about the practice and allow them to opt out.
“If they're tracking online and they're going to use the information cross-screen, they need to tell consumers that and make clear that consumers can opt out.”
The BBB already enforces the privacy codes that apply when companies collect information from laptops and desktops. Starting next year, the BBB will begin enforcing the industry's mobile privacy code, which requires companies to inform consumers about tracking across apps, and allow them to opt out of receiving targeted ads.