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ASA publishes report on Online Behavioural Advertising

The report covers the period from February to June, reviewing complaints and looking at the monitoring process.


As reported by the IPA, new rules were added to the CAP Code in February this year, enabling the ASA to regulate third party Online Behavioural Advertising (“OBA”). The new rules require third parties that deliver behaviourally targeted ads to be transparent about their activities and to provide a relevant opt-out mechanism for consumers, both on their own websites and on the OBA ads that they serve by, for example, including the Your Online Choices icon on the ads.

The ASA has just published its first report on its work on OBA, covering the period from February until the end of June. It reviews complaints brought by consumers and also looks at the ASA’s two-stage monitoring process.

Only 77 complaints were made by consumers about OBA in the relevant period and all were resolved without requiring formal investigation. Mostly, complainants had found difficulty in trying to opt-out of OBA, leading the ASA simply to offer further advice and information.

With regard to the monitoring process, the ASA looked at the websites of 386 third party companies engaged in OBA. Of these, 297 websites (77%) either did not contain any OBA notification information at all, or the information that they did contain was not sufficiently clear. However, only 13 of these were UK companies falling under the ASA’s jurisdiction and registered with Your Online Choices. The ASA took an informal approach, writing to each to explain what it considered problematic with their websites and how they might make improvements. It also intends to write to a further 16 UK companies not registered with Your Online Choices.

The remaining 268 websites are based outside of the UK and so the ASA will contact its equivalent SRO partners in the relevant jurisdictions or, where there are no SRO partners or where the relevant SRO does not administer rules on third party OBA, it will try to contact the responsible third party company direct.

The ASA also monitored 41 ads at random on the 100 websites most visited by UK consumers, 6 of which the ASA felt might breach the code. However, the ASA was unable to pursue its investigations because of the limits of its technology and will be seeking to gain access to new technology going forward.

Says IPA Legal Director, Richard Lindsay: “It is not surprising that the complexity of the mechanics of third party OBA seems to have caused the ASA some difficulties. What is encouraging, though, is the low number of consumer complaints raised since the new rules came into play and the low number of UK third party companies whose websites might not yet be fully compliant. The ASA has taken a very sensible approach by seeking to deal with issues informally in order to help consumers understand more about OBA and to encourage third party OBA operators to do what they can to comply with the rules and give consumers more information and greater transparency with regard to the ads they see.”

Last updated 10/10/2013

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