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OpenX Ad Exchange Fined By FTC For Targeting Toddlers via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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The United States Federal Trade Commission fined OpenX Ad Exchange $2 Million dollars for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA Rule) which requires parental consent before collecting, using or disclosing personal information of children.

OpenX was found to be in violation of the FTC’s COPPA Rule by knowingly trafficking in the personal data collected from toddlers and other children under 13 years of age.

The United States government FTC Commissioner wrote:

“OpenX misrepresented its data collection practices on two fronts: by collecting and transferring location data when the consumer had not provided consent or had expressly denied consent; and by misrepresenting its COPPA-related activities and practices.

The complaint further alleges that OpenX also ran afoul of COPPA itself, by collecting personal information from users of child-directed properties without providing parents notice and then obtaining consent.

…Part XI of the stipulated order requires that OpenX email all its “demandside” clients and inform them that OpenX… failed to adequately comply with COPPA by allowing some child-directed apps to participate in its Ad Exchange, despite its policy of banning child-directed apps from participating.

As a result of this alleged failure, targeted advertising was served to some children without parental notice and consent.”

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What exposed OpenX to this finding was the fact that they advertised their ad exchange as having human reviewers performing traffic quality checks.

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“According to OpenX, it has the only traffic quality team in the industry that conducts a human review of each property to ensure compliance with OpenX’s policies and to classify accurately the subject matter of all Web sites and Apps for the benefit of its demand-side partners.”

OpenX

OpenX is a programmatic ad exchange company that provides ad serving technology to place ads on websites and real-time bidding for the placement of those ads.

One of the founders of OpenX is Tim Cadogan, formerly Senior Vice President of Global Advertising Marketplaces at Yahoo and is now the CEO of GoFundMe.

COPPA

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is designed to give parents control over the kinds of data that is collected about their children.

The rules apply to websites that are directed to children and sites that have knowledge that they are collecting information from children.

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Websites that are directed to toddlers and children under 13 are required to obtain parental permission.

Full COPPA requirements are listed at the FTC.

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FTC Accuses OpenX of Selling Ads to Children

According to the FTC, OpenX knowingly sold advertising space on children’s apps to advertisers without flagging that the ads were being shown on apps that were directed to toddlers and other children.

The reason the FTC states that OpenX knowingly sold ads to children is because OpenX markets their ad exchange as having human reviewers in addition to automated reviews.

According to the FTC announcement:

“The FTC’s investigation found that OpenX reviewed hundreds of child-directed apps with terms that identified the intended audience as “for toddlers,” “for kids,” “kids games,” or “preschool learning,” and included age ratings for the apps indicating they were directed to children under 13.

These apps and their data were not flagged as child-directed and participated in the OpenX ad exchange, according to the FTC.

Because OpenX had knowledge that apps in the ad exchange were child-directed and that the company was collecting personal information from children under 13, the FTC alleged that it had violated the COPPA Rule.

OpenX passed this personal data to third parties that used it to target ads to users of the child-directed apps.”

OpenX Violated Users GeoLocation Preferences

In addition to selling advertising to toddlers, OpenX also sold ads based on a site visitor’s geographic location even though they had opted out of geographic targeting.

According to the FTC the violation of users who opted out of geolocation tracking happened on Android phones.

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The FTC stated:

“OpenX violated the FTC Act by falsely claiming that the company did not collect geolocation from users who opted out of such data collection, according to the complaint.

In fact, the FTC alleged, OpenX did continue to collect geolocation data from some Android mobile phone users even after they specifically chose not to have such location tracking data collected.”

Citations

Read the FTC OpenX Fine Announcement

Advertising Platform OpenX Will Pay $2 Million for Collecting Personal Information from Children in Violation of Children’s Privacy Law

Read the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule

https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-16/part-312

Read the Concurring Statement from FTC Commissioner Phillips

Concurring Statement of Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips (PDF)

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NEWS

Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

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But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

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One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

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