BBB National Programs Archive

Website Elevates Privacy Notice

Accountability Program calls on all websites to clearly inform consumers about tracking

Arlington, VA – March 14, 2018 – Today, the Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program released its latest decision, Liftopia, Inc. This case upholds a consumer complaint about the lack of up-front notice of interest-based advertising (IBA) on Liftopia’s website. The missing notice—called “enhanced notice”—is designed to alert consumers to the fact that third-party advertisers may be collecting data about their browsing activity and using this data to deliver interest-based ads on other websites.

The advertising industry, through the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), pledged to provide enhanced notice to consumers so that they would have transparency about data collection for IBA. As one part of this commitment, the DAA empowered the Accountability Program to monitor industry compliance and to address consumer complaints when third-party advertisers or first-party websites do not live up to their responsibilities. Today’s case is proof that this system works.

The ubiquitous use of the AdChoices Icon in the corner of interest-based ads demonstrates that third-party advertisers are honoring this commitment to consumers. And while more and more websites are coming into compliance, as the current case demonstrates, there is still much work to be done in the website publisher space.

Consumers rely on websites for crucial information, for access to goods and services, and as means of communicating. For consumers to trust the online marketplace, they must be able to rely on the websites they visit to inform them in real time about their privacy practices. This includes educating and empowering consumers to make informed choices about IBA. Enhanced notice is a powerful way to do just that. It is the essential tool for getting consumers directly to a detailed explanation of IBA and an easy-to-use opt out, ending the problem caused by notices buried deep in privacy policies. For that reason, the DAA Principles require websites that allow IBA to ensure that their visitors receive this notice.

Enforcement of the enhanced notice requirement should come as no surprise to website operators. The Accountability Program has been crystal clear that websites must provide enhanced notice of third-party data collection or ensure that the third parties collecting data for IBA do so. In 2013, we issued a specific compliance warning to website owners and operators setting out their responsibilities, and we have followed up with dozens of compliance actions since that time. We have also engaged in educational outreach to publishers and their representatives.

“We are now many years into a combined education and enforcement initiative surrounding enhanced notice links on companies’ websites,” said Jon Brescia, Director of Adjudications and Technology for the Accountability Program. “Because of the importance of providing real-time notice of IBA data collection to consumers, the Accountability Program intends to keep monitoring for violations of the first-party enhanced notice rule and bringing cases.”

Liftopia, an ecommerce platform for ski resort ticket sales, had crafted a strong description of its IBA data collection practices and linked to industry-developed pages for opting out of IBA. But Liftopia failed to provide a clear, meaningful, and prominent link directly to this disclosure on the pages from which IBA data was being collected. Since no interest-based ads were being served on some of these pages, consumers had no indication that the collection was occurring.

To resolve the Accountability Program complaint, Liftopia added an enhanced notice link (“Your Ad Choices”) to the footer of its website, separate from its privacy policy link, which takes consumers directly to the advertising disclosure section of its privacy policy.

“Liftopia clearly understood that consumer privacy counts,” said Genie Barton, VP of Digital Advertising for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “However, its detailed IBA disclosure was buried in its privacy policy, the very problem that enhanced notice exists to remedy. It is a shame when companies do not take this one simple step to give visitors to their website a quick way to engage directly with them about privacy issues that matter to consumers. We’re glad Liftopia acted quickly to adopt our recommendations.”

Consumers who suspect that a website is allowing third-party advertisers to collect their data—through cookies or other means—without providing notice should submit a complaint through the Accountability Program’s form: