From 4 February 2013 all advertisers benefiting from so called “third party cookies” used for online behavioural advertising, and the third parties themselves, will be bound by new rules that are in addition to the existing legal regime. Stephen Groom explains the six new rules.
Topic: Online advertising
Who: Advertising Standards Authority
When: November 2012-new rules in force from 4 February 2013
Law stated as at: 8 December 2012
The UK's national advertising watchdog has announced a new cookie control regime featuring compulsory links to a ‘Do not track’ mechanism, co-operation by advertisers benefiting from behavioural targeting and "explicit consent" for the most intrusive forms of behavioural tracking. In launching this scheme, reports Stephen Groom at Osborne Clarke, the ASA has gone further than the current legal regime and created more regulatory hurdles for the online advertising ecosystem.
The Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) groundbreaking ‘Transparency and choice rules for Online Behavioural Advertising’ (‘OBA Rules’) apply to third party cookies, and come into effect on 4 February 2013. Third party cookies come into play if a user visits a website and a separate company from the one operating the site sets a cookie on that user's computer.
The OBA Rules apply to third party cookies used for online behavioural advertising, where the cookie collects data about the web behaviour of those using the device, across multiple websites visited, and uses this data to deliver advertising based on preferences inferred from the data collected. A new Appendix 3 containing the OBA Rules has been added to the CAP Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing.
The ASA makes it clear that the New Rules are not designed to deliver compliance with privacy and data protection law, so this new regime will operate separately and in parallel with relevant legal control systems. The legal control system for cookies is based in the UK on amendments made by Directive 2009/136/EC (the ‘E Privacy Directive’) to the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (‘PECRs’).
Regulation 6 of the PECRs requires that ‘a person shall not store or gain access to information stored, in the terminal equipment of a subscriber or user’ unless that user or subscriber is provided with ‘clear and comprehensive information about the purposes of that storage or access’ and has ‘given his or her consent.’
Note the absence here of requiring the consent to be either before the access or storage takes place or ‘explicit.’
Prior "explicit consent" needed for most intrusive tracking
Both will now be expressly required by the OBA Rules at Rule 31.2 for the use of:
"technology to collect and use information about all or substantially all websites that are visited by web users on a particular computer in order to deliver OBA to that computer"
In its explanatory Help Note, the Committee of Advertising Practice ("CAP") sister body to the ASA which writes the "CAP Code", explains that this does not apply to the everyday dropping of third party cookies triggered by a visit to a website linked to a third party online advertising network, but to the more intrusive form of behavioural tracking, using so-called "deep packet inspection."
This type of tracking operates at ISP level and therefore covers all web browsing activity by users of a computer. The practice gained notoriety in 2009 when launched by an organisation called "Phorm" in conjunction with BT. Concerns were raised by regulators and the practice has now to all intents and purposes discontinued in the UK.
It is believed, therefore, that this new rule will have limited impact. However there have to be residual concerns that with the increased sophistication of tracking technology, the wording of Rule 31.2 may be or become wide enough to catch third party cookies that may not use deep packet inspection but have equivalent or semi equivalent tracking capability
ICO ‘implied consent’
On this basis, the online advertising community warmly welcomed ‘implied consent’. But does this approach suffice for more intrusive tracking technology such as third party cookies? The ICO Guidance stopped short of providing a clear answer and all appearances suggest that UK OBA stakeholders have gone with ‘implied consent’ and hoped for the best.
A few days before the ASA announced the OBA Rules, the ICO reported on enforcement of the new cookie laws since May 2012. Between May and September 2012, 388 complaints were received about 207 websites, with the ICO so far having gone no further than writing to 68 organisations in May 2012 and 86 in October. As the ICO says, based on this, ‘consumer awareness and concerns about cookies appear relatively low.’
The new regime
Like it or not, compliance with these new OBA Rules is compulsory for all those affected, and with no grace period and full enforcement starting in just a few weeks' time, all those involved need to quickly get to grips with the new regime.
Six new rules
The OBA Rules lay down six new requirements:
1. Third Parties engaging in OBA must provide ‘clear and comprehensive notice’ about their OBA activity on their own websites;
2. Third Parties must provide the same notice in or around online display ads delivered to all other sites using OBA;
3. Third Parties must provide, both on their own websites and in or around OBA Ads, a link to a ‘relevant mechanism’ that allows the user to exercise a ‘Do not track’ option;
4. advertisers on whose behalf OBA Ads are delivered must co-operate with the ASA to help identify the Third Party if the ASA is unable to do so; and
5. Third Parties must not create interest segments specifically designed for the purposes of targeting OBA to children aged 12 or under
6. Explicit consent is needed before using technology to track and use for OBA information on all or substantially all websites visited by web users on a particular computer
These rules will not apply to:
• contextual advertising;
• web analytics;
• ad reporting or ad delivery;
• the collection and use of information for OBA by site operators on their own websites, or
• the use of OBA in rich media, in-stream videos online or on mobile devices.
This very last exclusion is significant with the unstoppable rise of mobile. So much is recognised by CAP, which in its Help Note on the OBA Rules (‘CAP Help Note’) promises an extension of the rules to mobile ‘in due course.’
OBA Rules #1 and #2
OBA Rule 31 deals with the giving of disclosures about OBA use of web browsing behaviour by way of ‘Notices.’ Third Parties must give two types of ‘clear and comprehensive notice’ that they are collecting and using web viewing data for OBA. The first type of notice must appear on the third party's own website and the second type of notice must appear in or around any OBA Ads.
Only the Third Party Website Notice has to explain how a user can opt out of use of their online behaviour for OBA purposes. This is a legal requirement under the E Privacy Directive, but it is odd that this is not mentioned in the context of Third Party Website Notices. Both Notices must include a link to a ‘relevant mechanism’ for opting out of the collection and use of web viewing data for OBA.
OBA Rule #3
Strangely, ‘relevant mechanism’ is not defined. CAP has clarified since publishing its Help Note that the mechanism in question can be either one of the Third Party's own creation or the mechanism referred to in the "Background" section of the OBA Rules and CAP Help Note.
This mechanism is already in operation and available at the "youronlinechoices.eu" url. CAP tells us that ‘the vast majority of UK operating Third Parties’ are signed up to it, so there is heavy pressure for remaining Third Parties to take this option.. The mechanism is enshrined in the ‘European Advertising Standards Alliance Best Practice Recommendations for OBA’ and an ‘EU Industry Framework.’ It is now administered by the ‘European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance’ or ‘EDAA’.
The EDAA Mechanism is a pan-European self-regulatory OBA notice and choice regime. It was initially devised at the instigation of the Internet Advertising Bureau (‘IAB’) before the E Privacy Directive's introduction of the need for consent for cookies. A similar system is already in operation in the US, though it is unclear what level of take up has been achieved. At its core is an ‘advertising option icon’ (‘Icon’). This performs the purpose of providing disclosure and enabling the user to opt out of use of their web viewing data for OBA.
However there are catches with the EDAA Mechanism:
1. in order to use the Icon, the Third Party must sign up to the ‘IAB Europe OBA Framework’;
2. all those signing up to this Framework must become compliant with the principles it lays down and self-certify such compliance within six months after signing up;
3. when arranging for deployment of the Icon, the Third Party must follow detailed ‘Technical Specifications for implementing the IAB Europe OBA Framework and EASA BPR in Europe’;
4. to be able to use the Icon, a licence has to be obtained. There are two licence fees:
– the ‘regular’ fee of €5000 a year; and
– for small or medium sized enterprises a reduced annual fee of €3000.
The lower fee will only be payable if evidence can be provided that the enterprise derived annual revenue from online display advertising of below €3 million.
It also appears that signing up for an Icon licence between now and the end of the year is not attractive, since the full annual fee will be charged for 2012.
5. Signatory Third Parties will be monitored by an ‘independent certified provider’ to ensure they adhere to the EU Industry Framework Principles. They will not receive a ‘trading seal’ unless they comply.
OBA Rule #4
Under OBA Rule 1.8.1 advertisers benefiting from OBA must co-operate if they are approached by the ASA for information about the identity of the responsible Third Party. The ASA cannot impose financial penalties, but could steps be taken through the CAP to stop the appearance of the relevant OBA Ads? The CAP Help Note says that an advertiser who is asked to co-operate may need to obtain details about which network carried the campaign or which third party served the ad. Beyond this, it sheds little light and no doubt online advertisers will be taking advice. They will be well advised to audit their OBA activity and all relevant Third Parties.
OBA Rule #5
‘Interest segments’ are preferences inferred from the data collected by a cookie about a user's web viewing behaviour. The CAP Help Note points out that the prohibition at rule 31.1.3 will target the construction of segments based on data collected from websites aimed at under 13s. In any investigation, the Third Party will be asked to explain how a segment was created and why it did not particularly target under 13s.
The ‘Sanctions’ section of the ASA's Regulatory Statement says:
• hopefully in most cases co-operation will lead to immediate remedial action;
• otherwise a formal investigation may be needed, leading to the adjudication being published on the ASA website;
• if the Third Party continues to breach the rules, measures would include bringing this continued non-compliance to the attention of the Third Party's potential clients and partners; and
• there are additional sanctions if the Third Party is a signatory to the EDAA Mechanism:
– removal of the trading seal of approval; and
-removal of the licence to use the Icon.
If complaints are made that the OBA Rules have been broken, the CAP Help Note tells us that ‘country of origin’ applies. The idea of this is that ‘each Third Party will be subject to regulation by only one advertising self-regulatory body.’ The CAP Help Note refers to the majority of ‘UK operating’ Third Parties being signed up to the EDAA Mechanism.
This indicates that the jurisdictional test will be whether the Third Party is ‘operating in the UK.’ But does this mean there has to be a physical presence in the UK? If the Third Party is located in the US, for example, how will the ASA compel compliance? In recent comments, CAP has indicated that in such a case, the ASA is likely to refer the matter to a relevant self-regulatory authority in the US that already has well established OBA rules. This could be the Network Advertising Initiative or the Better Business Bureau.
CAP hails this initiative as a ‘significant step to ensure targeted marketing techniques can flourish.’ It is certainly not insignificant in terms of the additional regulatory burden it creates. In terms of policing privacy in the digital advertising arena it has historically been the ASA, not the ICO which has the strong track record. It has a far higher profile as the ‘go to’ watchdog in the sector and has shown unflinching commitment to act when complaints are received. Third Parties and advertisers benefiting from OBA will be best advised to take this development seriously and take steps to ensure compliance before 4 February 2013.
- ASA Regulatory Statement, new rules and CAP Help Note
- European Advertising Standards Alliance Best Practice Recommendations on OBA
- EU Industry Framework
- IAB Technical Specifications for implementing the IAB Europe OBA Framework and EASA BPR in Europe
- Criteria for self-certification of compliance with the OBA Framework
- Applying for an OBA Icon licence