Online Campaign For 23andMe Violated Ad Privacy Code, BBB Says

Ad Tech

A recent online ad campaign for the genetic testing company 23andMe didn't comply with the ad industry's privacy code, an arm of the Better Business Bureau said on Wednesday.

The campaign retargeted users who had visited 23andMe's Web site. But those ads lacked the AdChoices icon, which takes people to a site where they can learn about online behavioral advertising and opt out. 3Q Digital was the agency for the campaign, and MediaMath served as the demand side platform.

When the BBB Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program contacted 23andMe, MediaMath and 3Q Digital, the companies all said they expected one of the others to arrange for the icons to be served.

The BBB said in a written decision that the failure to comply with the privacy code “highlights the need for greater awareness and vigilance from all companies that comprise this diverse and interdependent ecosystem.”

The organization added: “Where an advertising agency such as 3Q Digital decides to employ a self-service buying platform instead of a managed-service solution provided by a third party, that company steps into the shoes of companies explicitly covered by the (online behavioral advertising) principles and therefore must be prepared to assume their compliance responsibilities unless it makes other arrangements.”

The BBB noted in its decision that 23andMe was never accused of violating the privacy of people who have used the genetic testing service. But the organization said that companies that handle sensitive information “should be especially proactive in seeking knowledge about and adopting industry best practices and programs in their advertising.”

3Q Digital's CEO David Rodnitzky says the failure to comply with self-regulatory rules was the result of a misunderstanding. “Obviously when we received the notice, we immediately got on the phone with MediaMath, figured out what happened, and fixed this as soon as we could,” he tells Online Media Daily

The agency also says in a blog post that it is “doubly committed to staying on top of BBB (and other) policies going forward so that this doesn't happen again.”

MediaMath said in a blog post that the BBB's inquiry spurred the company to “remind all of our self-service clients about their obligations” under the industry's self-regulatory principles.

A 23andMe spokesperson tells Online Media Daily that the company “remedied the situation immediately.”

While the BBB stated that it was “pleased with the outcome of these inquiries,” not everyone is impressed with the self-regulatory program.

Privacy advocate Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, says the fact that lapses occur shows that “the industry doesn't take privacy seriously.” He adds: “The industry is so focused on the expansion of data collection, that privacy is an afterthought.”

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