More Canadian online advertisers are complying with the AdChoices Accountability program than ever, Ad Standards has found.

According to the industry organization’s latest “AdChoices Accountability Program 2017 Compliance Report,” released on March 7, 64 of the 83 websites (or 84 per cent) now participating in the Ad Standards program, which regulates ad tracking, were fully compliant by the end of 2017. Eight others (an additional 11 per cent) had a compliance plan in place.

That’s a significant gain from even 2016, when 69 per cent (51 out of 74) participants in the program were fully compliant.

“We recognize that achieving compliance is not without its challenges, and acknowledge the significant efforts expended by participants to achieve success,” Ad Standards president and CEO Jani Yates wrote in the report.

Four remaining participants – none of which are named in in the report – failed to comply and are being subjected to “non-compliance measures,” which according to the report could include referring a given company to the Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada (DAAC)’s board of directors with the recommendation that its program membership and license to display the AdChoices icon be revoked; publish a case report that identifies the company and the non-compliance issue; or refer the matter to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

“While high participant compliance is both the expectation and the norm, we have identified a small number of companies that signed on to the program, but have failed to meet their program obligations and have not committed to corrective action,” Yates wrote. “This is a serious concern. With the program achieving maturity, Ad Standards is redoubling our efforts to ensure that only compliant companies maintain the privilege of program participation.”

Websites participating in the Ad Choices program, which spans ad networks, ad exchanges, advertising technology companies, and major publishers and brands, include Google and Facebook, which collectively represent more than two thirds of Canada’s online advertising revenue, in addition to such well-known brands as IBM, Netflix, Microsoft, and Rogers.

To emphasize the effectiveness of joining the program, which was established in 2015 and requires participants to notify consumers that they’re being tracked by what Ad Standards calls “interest-based advertising” and provide them with an opt-out mechanism, Ad Standards tested its ad tracking standards on 30 websites popular with Canadians (which were not identified), all of which featured ad tracking accompanied by the AdChoices icon, and found that when the official DAAC opt-out tool was used no interest-based advertising was found on any of them.

By contrast, when Ad Standards tested 30 popular data-collecting French and English language websites in Canada (also unspecified) operated by non-participants, it found that only 23 per cent provided real-time notice of data collection for ad tracking purposes, compared to 90 per cent of participant websites (though it noted that 90 per cent of both provided a notice statement). It also found that 75 per cent of program participants provided “prominent” real-time notice, while none of the non-participating websites did, and that only 63 per cent of the non-participating companies surveyed provided an opt-out mechanism, compared to 90 per cent of participants.

Courtesy Ad Standards (click for larger version)

Finally, the organization noted that only 20 per cent of the non-participating websites surveyed provided a link to opt-out webpages specifically designed for the Canadian marketplace, compared to 90 per cent of participants.

Only 5% of complaints raised potential concerns

Since Ad Standards’ mandate includes hearing consumer complaints related to ad tracking, the organization noted that only 13 of the 271 consumer complaints submitted in 2017 (or five per cent), the majority of which involved allegations that an opt-out did not work, were determined to raise potential concerns.

In five cases, the organization found the opt-out tool was generally working but had temporary problems, which were referred to the DAAC. In eight others, Ad Standards helped the complainants with opt-outs on specific websites or helped them opt out of ad tracking entirely.

The majority of complaints – 74 per cent – involved issues outside the DAAC’s jurisdiction, with most representing consumers who did not want to see advertising on the websites they visit. Other concerns cited included ads in free email or social media services; ads a given consumer found inappropriate; difficulty reading ads or annoyance with their frequency; or ads that were blocking content they wanted to see.

You can read the full report here.

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