BBB National Programs Archive
Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program Formal Review: 05.2011
ONLINE INTEREST-BASED ADVERTISING ACCOUNTABILITY PROGRAM
Case Number: 05-2011
Advertising Accountability Program
November 8, 2011
Under the Consumer Control Principle, a company is required to set an opt-out cookie
with a minimum expiration date of five years from the date on which a consumer
Martini Media (Martini Media or the company) is a media network targeting affluent
consumers. Martini Media engages in the collection and use of data for online behavioral
advertising (OBA) purposes as defined in the cross-industry Self-Regulatory Principles
for Online Behavioral Advertising (Principles):
Online Behavioral Advertising means the collection of data from a
particular computer or device regarding Web viewing behaviors over time
and across non-Affiliate Web sites for the purpose of using such data to
predict user preferences or interests to deliver advertising to that computer 2
or device based on the preferences or interests inferred from such Web
viewing behaviors. (Principles at 9-10, Definition G.).
OBA PRACTICE AT ISSUE
One of the cornerstones of the Principles is “consumer control.” (Principles at 14,
Principle III.). A third party must provide the consumer with an easy-to-use mechanism
that allows the consumer to exercise choice regarding the collection and use of data from
his or her device for OBA purposes. The practice at issue is whether the company was
providing consumers with choice as required under the Consumer Control Principle.
The obligation of a third party to enable a consumer to exercise choice is explained in the
Principles as follows:
A Third Party should provide consumers with the ability to exercise choice with
respect to the collection and use of data for Online Behavioral Advertising
purposes or the transfer of such data to a non-Affiliate for such purpose. Such
choice should be available from the notice described in II.A.(2)(a); from the
industry-developed Web page(s) as set forth in II.A.2.(b)(i); or from the Third
Party’s disclosure linked to from the page where the Third Party is individually
listed as set forth in II.A.2.(b)(ii). (Principles at 14, III.A.).
BASIS OF INQUIRY
On August 26, 2011, the Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program
(Accountability Program) tested the functionality of the consumer choice mechanism
Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari. While the opt-out request was successfully
processed in each test, the opt-out cookie delivered to each browser was set to expire in
less than six months from the date of the test. This expiration date falls short of industry
The Principles are built on consensus standards: “The cross-industry Self-Regulatory
Program for Online Behavioral Advertising was developed by leading industry
associations to apply consumer-friendly standards to online behavioral advertising across
the Internet.” (Principles at 1). The industry standard for the duration of an opt-out
cookie is five years from the date of the request¹.
Repeated tests of the choice mechanism continued to find the short expiration date,
demonstrating that the problem was persistent and was not corrected by the company
during the month that testing was repeated.
In response to the Accountability Program’s inquiry, the company acknowledged that the
opt-out cookie delivered to the consumer’s browser contained an expiration date of less
than six months from the date of the opt-out request. The company stated that it would
quickly change the opt-out cookie’s expiration date to the five-year time frame that is the
All companies have the obligation to monitor their data collection and advertising
practices to ensure compliance with the Principles, including ensuring that their notice
and choice mechanisms are fully compliant with the Principles at all times. The
Accountability Program finds that Martini Media was not compliant with the Consumer
Control Principle because it failed to ensure that its consumer choice mechanism
contained an expiration date consistent with the industry standard minimum of five years.
Upon notification by the Accountability Program, the company changed the opt-out
cookie’s expiration date to five years from the date of the request. The Accountability
Program has conducted subsequent tests on the opt-out mechanism on all browsers
previously tested and found the expiration date for the opt-out cookie to meet the fiveyear minimum as required by the industry standard.
The Accountability Program’s goal is to ensure that companies engaged in OBA comply
with the Self-Regulatory Principles. The Accountability Program’s monitoring and
complaint processes are designed to identify areas of possible non-compliance, to make
companies aware of potential non-compliance and to work with companies to rectify noncompliance. Martini Media has implemented the Accountability Program’s
recommendations and the practice at issue has been resolved.
In response to the inquiry the company stated that they were immediately correcting the
problem and that their opt-out cookie would be set to expire in five (5) years.4
DISPOSITION OF DECISION
Practice voluntarily corrected.
1. As the Aboutads.info web site explains to consumers who wish to exercise choice, “Opt out cookies storing such preferences that are placed by companies participating in the Program have a minimum fiveyear lifespan, and remain in effect for the user’s browser unless these opt out cookies are deleted (as can happen if users deletes all of their cookies using browser tools).” See also Chitika, Inc., FTC Docket No. C-4324 (June 7, 2011) (requiring Chitika to provide a five-year opt out).