BBB's Online Privacy Watchdog Faults 5 Web Publishers

Five Web companies -- Answers Corporation, Best Buy, BuzzFeed,, and Yelp -- have agreed to revise their sites in order to comply with the industry's self-regulatory privacy guidelines, a unit of the Better Business Bureau said this week.

The companies all promised to offer “enhanced” notice on every page where ad networks or other third parties collect information in order to serve ads to people based on their behavior across the Web. “Enhanced notice” requires companies to add a separate link that takes people directly to a site where they can opt out of receiving behaviorally targeted ads.

Yelp, BuzzFeed and the other companies named this week by the BBB offered online privacy policies, but didn't have separate links devoted to behavioral advertising.

Many Web site operators have long displayed privacy policies that inform people about behavioral targeting and contain opt-out links. But users often have to scroll through thousands of words before finding that information. By contrast, the “enhanced notice” links take people directly to information about how data about their Web activity is used to serve ads. The link itself is supposed to appear underneath text like “Interest-based ads,” “About our ads,” “AdChoices,” or “Why did I get this ad?”

The BBB's move comes one year after the organization's online privacy watchdogs said in a compliance warning that publishers must provide “clear, meaningful and prominent” links on all pages where third parties -- like ad networks and exchanges -- collect data about visitors in order to serve them with targeted ads.

That requirement applies when data is used in all forms of online behavioral advertising, including retargeting, (showing people ads for the same products they viewed at a retailer's site).

The BBB's online privacy watchdogs reported last year that a preliminary review revealed that a “significant minority” of publishers weren't including the enhanced notice links.

This January, the unit began formally reviewing publishers' sites to determine whether they had the enhanced links. “While many Web sites either were compliant with the [online behavioral advertising] principles or lacked third-party tracking ... some popular sites had not come into compliance,” the self-regulatory group writes in the batch of opinions released this week.

A Yelp spokesperson says the company was contacted by the BBB's enforcement unit in February, shortly after the company began offering online behavioral advertising to brand advertisers. “We immediately looked into whether any changes should be made to Yelp's site and willingly made those minor updates,” the spokesperson says. “Prior to being contacted by the Accountability Program, we already included a number of different mechanisms to opt out of OBA in our privacy policy.”

Genie Barton, vice president and director of the BBB's Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program, tells Online Media Daily that some Web publishers appear unaware of the requirement for “enhanced” notice links. “I think some companies don't realize it,” she says. “We've done everything that we can to publicize it.”

Barton adds that only one company -- SunTrust Bank -- contacted by her unit has refused to cooperate with her investigation. SunTrust reportedly stated that it is monitored by federal and state agencies and subject to various regulatory reviews, according to a statement issued by the BBB in May. Barton says she referred the bank to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

1 comment about "BBB's Online Privacy Watchdog Faults 5 Web Publishers".
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  1. Craig Spiezle from AgeLight LLC, October 29, 2014 at 8:15 p.m.

    A good first step but if we are talking about consumer control and privacy protection, any self-regulatory program must facilitate opting of data collection and sharing, not just receiving interest based ads.

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