On 20 June 2019, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) released an updated report on the current state of adtech and the real time bidding industry.

As the independent authority established to uphold data privacy for UK citizens, the ICO has a keen interest in digital advertising.

Recently, they have been investigating how personal data is used and shared in the real time bidding process – to determine if laws, such as GDPR, are being broken.

What was the conclusion? The industry needs “to make improvements to comply with the law.”

Reading this, you might find it surprising for two reasons.

First, you may have thought that privacy regulation like GDPR is completely toothless as, a year after coming into force, little seems to have changed – excepting those irritating privacy and cookie notifications popping-up on every site you visit.

And second, you may not have been aware of how greedily your data is being harvested and how ruthlessly it is being exploited for profit. As the Commissioner’s foreword says:

“Many people will not have given a moment’s thought to the complex process that leads to advertisements appearing on the webpages and apps they use, but behind the scenes is a complex and large-scale system.”

For those with an understanding of real time bidding, the Commissioner’s conclusions and concerns are not surprising.

The ICO documents how sensitive data is frequently shared and used without consent, and how intrusive, unfair data profiles are created for individuals without their knowledge or understanding.

The clock is ticking...

These findings have now been returned to the adtech industry for a response – with a follow-up review set for six months’ time.

From our point of view, we don’t hold out hope for any meaningful response from the industry. It’s been a year since GDPR came into force and over three years since drafts of the regulation were available for pre-emptive action. Not only does adtech not want to change, it also has no alternative to change to.

We agree with Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, and her conclusion that “companies do not need to choose between innovation and privacy.”

At Glimpse, we are building the solution that will allow adtech to have their cake and eat it too: targeted ads and complete user privacy.

We are innovating with bleeding-edge technology to realise the UK Commissioner’s vision: “a system that allows revenue for publishers and audiences for advertisers” but that also ensures “respect for internet users’ legal rights.”

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