MDC Partners' agency trading desk Varick Media Management violated the industry's privacy code by failing to offer consumers a way to reject behavioral targeting, a watchdog administered by the Better Business Bureau said on Thursday.
The ad industry's privacy rules require companies to notify consumers via an icon when data about their Web-surfing history is used for ad targeting, and allow them to opt out of receiving targeted ads.
Varick displayed the AdChoices icon in its behaviorally targeted ads, but the opt-out links accessible from the icon were broken, the BBB's Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program said in an 8-page decision.
"At the time of its review, Varick did not provide users with a functional opt out," the opinion states.
A company representative says Varick is now complaint with all the industry's privacy rules and has "taken all steps to correct the errors that were outlined" in the decision.
The Accountability Program said it began investigating Varick after a consumer complained that about a broken opt-out link. Staff at the BBB unit tested Varick's ads by clicking on the AdChoices icons it served in ads. Three different opt-out links appeared -- but all were problematic.
One link took users to Varick's home page, but that one took so long to load that the watchdog said it wasn't functional. The second took users to a page operated by TRUSTe, but that page didn't offer an opt-out link for Varrick. A third carried the URL "varickmm.com/optout.html," suggesting that it would take people directly to a Varick opt-out page. But clicking resulted in an "HTTP 404 error" message.
The watchdog also used the phrase "Varick optout" to search the Web for opt-out links.
One search result led to a page with an error message. A second result led to a page with links to the Digital Advertising Alliance and Ghostery, but an opt-out for Varick wasn't available through either site.
The watchdog said Thursday that Varick has now fixed the opt-out links. A Varrick representative added that the company was undergoing a Web site redesign, and its links appeared broken because they redirected visitors to an old page. Also, an MDC Partners representative said that the company wasn't aware that its opt-out links weren't appearing on the pages of outside vendors until it heard from the BBB-administered Accountability Program; Varick then immediately alerted those companies, the representative said in an email.
In addition to the broken opt-outs, Varick also was cited because its own Web didn't include an "enhanced notice" link.
The industry's privacy code requires companies 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.
Varick's home page currently has a link that takes people to a site where they can opt out of receiving behaviorally targeted ads.