Is Programmatic Ignoring GDPR? Why Is Ads.txt Adoption So Low?

This is a bit worrisome. Beyond the glitzy big figure of EU programmatic advertising hitting more than 16bn Euros last year with a growth rate of 33%, there are a couple of rather startling findings further down in IAB Europe's report released today.

Let's deal with the non-GDPR question for a moment. You may be as surprised as I was to find that just 6% of advertisers and 26% of advertising agencies are buying the majority of their programmatic inventory with ads.txt verification.

The sell side from publishers is doing much better, but still is only at just over half selling the majority of their programmatic inventory as ads.txt verified.

The mismatch in the figures would suggest the 26% of ad agencies routinely relying on ads.txt have a lot of purchasing power and so can account for a little over half of what publishers have to sell, alongside advertisers that are going direct.

Nevertheless, it's a pretty low figure -- particularly on the buy side, which IAB Europe admits needs to be addressed through better education.



For those who download the report, there is a curiously small section on GDPR. It's just a couple of lines, and you won't find a reference to it in the press release issued today.

Given that Google and the programmatic industry are trying to prove to regulators in the UK and Ireland that the channel can be GDPR-compliant, it seems odd to just have a handful of throwaway lines.

The findings of those lines also seem odd. Apparently, 38% of publishers are saying that 80% of their inventory is being bought via a Consent Management Platform. Similarly 17% of buyers are saying they are buying four-fifths of their inventory with consent passed on. 

I'm not really sure what has been tucked away deep in the report there. Are they saying the best 38% of publishers still sell a fifth of their inventory without the appropriate consent permissions? What about the other 62% of publishers?

Are they selling a greater proportion of inventory without permission? Or perhaps the report is hinting that consent is not needed as people are anonymised? It's hard to tell.

There is a line in there where the IAB Europe points out the figures date to a period before the industry received guidance from ICO and CNIL (France's data watchdog) on GDPR and programmatic, and expects consent rates to climb in the future. That would suggest it does believe consent is required for programmatic to work.

It should also be pointed out that the report covers 2018, and so for seven months GDPR was in place. Not sure about you, but I think the ICO had given out plenty of advice before May 2018.

So I guess IAB Europe can say they did put something in there about GDPR without drawing attention to it -- but this, for me, is where there could be a real bear trap for the industry.

When a consent-based law is in place and the industry's trade body can only say a minority manage to sell four in five of their spots with consent assured, there's a rather massive legal question there, don't you think?

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