Commentary

Did The ICO Just Agree That RTB Fails The GDPR Test?

Real-Time Bidding would appear to be guilty as charged. That seems to the takeaway from yesterday's closed-door session at the ICO.

It was supposed to have been under Charter House Rules, meaning that information about the day could not be shared, but that ruling was later relaxed by the ICO.

Nevertheless, the information coming out of the day is a little third-hand because journalists were not allowed to attend the event. Given that it concerns the widespread misused of personal information, one would have imagined the ICO might have taken a more open stance. 

Apparently, we can expect a statement from the data watchdog in the coming weeks. That would fit in with its timeline, stated in June, that it would make a pronouncement within six moths.

The RTB industry had effectively been given until the run-up to Christmas to sort itself out and, from whatCampaignhas been told about the event, it would appear that there is still much work to be done. 

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The two main points appear to be -- and again we have to say appear to be because no reporters were in the room -- issues over sharing data too widely and in particular, sharing sensitive information without consent. 

The basic point is that when real-time bidding for audiences occurs, the ad-tech guys need to say something about who is looking at a web page to try to get the interest of an advertiser.

If this were a one-to-one discussion in a private room, it might not be so bad. Unfortunately, it's rapid-fire stuff. Bids revealing information about each web user are sprayed around the ad-tech supply chain, meaning it is leaking out, allowing people who don't win the auction for that viewer to potentially collect data.

That seems to be the crux of the issue that the ICO would appear to be agreeing with campaigners on. Where there is presumably even more concern is that some of this information relates to sensitive data.

The GDPR is crystal clear on any information related to a person's health, religion, sexual orientation, political views and union membership. 

The latter point has made me wonder how political advertising works, as well as how health campaigns can hope to be well targeted. I certainly don't remember being asked to share any of my sensitive data with any third parties. I have not been aware of being drawn to an explicit consent box to allow such data to be shared with third parties.

That is the nub of the issue here and reading between the lines, the ICO is now agreeing with campaigners and is likely to give the RTB an unwelcome Christmas present over the next few weeks.

Quite what it will say remains to be seen. However, even a five-year old reading the GDPR terms could tell the advertising industry it is not compliant, particularly around sensitive data. 

I always remember Google being seen as a bit of a grinch, giving SEO teams a headache by altering its algorithm in the run up to the Christmas.

This year, I rather suspect it will be the RTB and programmatic advertising industries that will find their fizz has gone flat as they are told to cancel the work day out and focus on mending their ways. 

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