Accountability Program Q&A

Q&A: What is the Accountability Program

The Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program (Accountability Program) is a data privacy program that enforces self-regulatory industry standards for online and mobile advertising. Its mission is to build trust in the digital marketplace by ensuring that businesses provide consumers with transparency and choice about the collection and use of their data for interest-based ads. The Accountability Program was developed at the request of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), an alliance of the major advertising trade associations, as the independent third-party accountability agent for the DAA suite of Self-Regulatory Principles.

What is interest-based advertising?

Interest-based advertising (IBA) is the technical term for a certain type of ad that you encounter on the internet. As you might guess, an ad is “interest-based” when it relates to categories or products that you may be interested in. To put it simply, an interest-based ad is displayed on your device instead of another less relevant ad because advertisers have guessed your likely interests based on information they have collected. Often this information includes the fact that you have visited certain websites or viewed certain products on your device. With this data as a starting point, advertising platforms make educated guesses about the ads you will be most likely to find interesting or relevant.

Some people are glad to have ads that are more relevant to them, while others prefer not to share their information with advertisers. Both views are equally valid! This is why the advertising industry ensures that consumers are able to opt out of IBA if they so choose. Advertisers also include the AdChoices icon on all IBA ads to make sure that consumers can tell whether individual ads are tailored to their interests.

IBA can appear on your computer’s web browser (for example Firefox or Chrome), on the web browser on your mobile device, or on other applications on your mobile device, including games and social media apps. Many other ads that you see online are not interest-based, but are instead displayed on a web page that is relevant to the ad (known as contextual advertising) or otherwise simply displayed in any available advertising spot. In other contexts you may see IBA referred to as “tailored advertising,” “targeted advertising,” or “behavioral advertising,” though these terms are not as precise as “IBA.”

An example may help to illustrate IBA in action. While browsing the internet, Wilma Morris visits a website where she shops for products for one of her favorite hobbies: knitting. While on the site, she begins to research a new set of knitting needles. Distracted by a phone call, Wilma closers her browser and leaves her computer. Later that day, while checking the latest news, Wilma sees the very same knitting needles included as part of an advertisement on the news website she is viewing. This ad is IBA. Farther down the page she sees another ad, this time for yarn sold by a completely different website from the one she visited earlier. This ad too is IBA. On further inspection, Wilma sees that both ads are clearly labeled as IBA with the AdChoices icon.

Wilma may be concerned that the news website, her web browser, or some other company has invaded her privacy in order to show her these ads. Was someone “watching” her shop for knitting needles? To answer this question it is important to keep in mind exactly what information the advertising company needed—and what it didn’t need—to display these ads on Wilma’s computer screen. The company did not need to know anything about who Wilma is, where she lives, or whether her favorite hobby is, in fact, knitting. That is, no one sent the ad off for delivery specifically to Wilma Morris in Centralia, Wisconsin. Instead, the only information the advertising company needed is the fact that someone on the same computer visited the knitting needle web page earlier in the day. It was able to tell that the same device accessed the news website and knitting website by using small text files, known as cookies, stored on Wilma’s computer.

What are the principles?

The principles allow consumers more insight into and control over advertisers using their information for targeted advertisements.

What kind of businesses are subject to the principles?

Any organization that collects data on a non-affiliated website and/or uses that data for online advertising. Some examples are: ad networks, data aggregators, website publishers and advertisers.

The Digital Advertising Accountability Program is supported by the members of the Digital Advertising Alliance.

Do I have a choice about interest-based advertising?

While many people like receiving relevant ads, some consumers prefer not to have their interests reflected in the ads they receive online. To give you a better understanding of how interest-based advertising works and to let you control whether or not you receive interest-based ads, the digital ads industry created the AdChoices Program. The Accountability Program enforces AdChoices to make sure that all companies provide consumers with notice that they are collecting and using web browsing and to provide consumers with choice.

How do I exercise my choice?

Consumers have several options:

When you see an advertisement that carries the AdChoices icon or AdChoices message, you can click on the icon or AdChoices message to learn more about the ad and how to opt out from future collection and use of your web browsing data for interest-based advertising.

You can visit the AboutAds consumer choice page to see a list of businesses that collect and use data for IBA purposes and opt out of some or all on the list.

For a mobile opt-out solution, visit the AppChoices page to learn about the AppChoices app. Alternatively, you may be able to use the system settings on your mobile device to opt out. For examples of how to do so, see this site for iOS or this one for Android.

How can the Accountability Program help me exercise my choice?

If you believe a business is following your online activity and serving you ads based on that information without giving you notice and choice, we encourage you to fill out the easy-to-use online report form here.

The more information you can give us, the better able we will be to act on your report.  If you can capture screen shots related to your report, please be sure to attach those, too!