Ad watchdog takes action on OBA transparency

The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) has claimed that more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of registered companies in the online behavioural advertising (OBA) sector may be in breach of transparency guidelines.  

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The ad watchdog has written to a number of companies it believes to be in potential breach of guidelines, after it identified a number of concerns over the retargeting method, including poor consumer awareness.

Despite there having been only 77 complaints over OBA in the first six months since it fell under its remit, the ASA is now in the process of informally contacting companies that have signed up to the Your Online Choices guidelines (and fall within its jurisdiction), explaining why its deems their practises as potentially problematic. 

An ASA update report reads: “We asked them to make alterations to their websites to comply with the rules, and advised them to seek further guidance from the CAP Copy Advice team.” 

If the parties’ subsequent responses fail to meet with the ASA’s approval it will the take further action, according to the body. 

In the six months from February 4, 2013 (the day OBA fell under ASA remit), 75 out of a total of 77 complaints from the public where deemed suitable for the ASA to rule on, with the “overwhelming majority of complaints” focusing on letting consumers opt-out of OBA. 

The report also notes that most complainants only had only a “basic awareness of what OBA was and little understanding” of how OBA worked.

In its feedback to complainants, the ASA advised them on how to opt-out of receiving OBA, and additionally asked them to report back should they run into further difficulty in acting on the advice. 

“Several complainants did contact us again after receiving our initial advice to say that they had not been able to opt-out of receiving OBA. 

“But none were able to provide us with sufficient information to allow us to take forward an investigation into a particular third party or advertisement,” reads the report. 

In conjunction with this process, the ASA also audited compliance among third-party ad serving companies involved in OBA, and found that 77 per cent (297 out of a total of over 380 registered companies) may breach its guidelines on clearly informing users on the collection of their behavioural data. 

It reads: “In many of those cases a link to further information and a relevant opt-out mechanism was included, but we were concerned that the appearance and placement of the initial notification was inadequate.

“Because we do not yet have any ASA Council decisions on which to base our assessment at this time, we consider these to be potential, rather than clear, breaches of the Code.”

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