Adbrain Rebuked For 'Cumbersome' Opt-Out Tool

The ad company Adbrain has been rebuked by the industry's privacy watchdog for failing to offer consumers an acceptable opt-out mechanism.

"In sum, Adbrain’s opt-out instructions and mechanism appeared to be so incomplete and cumbersome, respectively, as to present serious issues," the Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program of the Better Business Bureau wrote in an opinion unveiled Wednesday.

The U.K.-based Adbrain -- known for offering technology that powers cross-device tracking -- offers consumers a way to opt out of receiving targeted ads based on their online activity as well as their activity across apps. But people who want to use Adbrain's mobile opt-out must enter their smartphone's ID into a website. Android users must locate and then correctly input a 32-character alphanumeric ID, while iPhone users need to perform independent research to locate their IDs and may also have to download an app in order to obtain the ID, according to the accountability program.

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That process is too unwieldy for average consumers, the watchdog says. "Even though this opt-out mechanism functioned correctly, the barriers to effectuating the opt out were so significant that the tool did not serve as an easy-to-use means for consumers to exercise choice," the accountability program wrote.

The watchdog added that Adbrain's opt-out page didn't define "device ID," tell consumers where to find it, or offer comprehensible instructions for resolving problems caused by typos.

The industry's self-regulatory code requires ad companies to provide consumers with an easy way to avoid receiving targeted ads based on their web activity.

Adbrain revised its opt-out site after learning of the privacy watchdog's inquiry, but the page is still not "sufficiently accessible to average users to bring the company into compliance," according to the watchdog.

Among other changes, the opt-out page now includes a link to instructions on how to locate device IDs on Android and Apple phones, according to the privacy unit. Those changes "represent a good-faith effort" but fall short, according to the accountability program.

Adbrain promised to make more changes to its opt-out tool, according to the privacy watchdog. "This commitment to achieving full compliance with the mobile guidance, paired with interim improvements, was acceptable to the Accountability Program, which informed the company it would retain jurisdiction until a compliant solution was implemented," the watchdog wrote.

Adbrain Chief Operating Officer Ed Chater says the company expects to revise its opt-out procedures by the end of the year. He says that one possibility involves integrating with the Digital Advertising Alliance's mobile opt-out tool.

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