Adtech: An industry broken by design and by default

European Digital Rights (EDRi) recently published “targeted online: an industry broken by design and by default”. The booklet provides an overall picture of the issues related to adtech widespread and ongoing abuse of your data, and includes contributions from the experience we — Open Rights Group and our European partners — have gained from our campaign to “end illegal advertising”.

Why should you read it? And why is an entire network of European organisation involved in dissecting and pointing out the faults of a lame and failed industry?

Adtech is watching you

Privacy is undoubtedly the centrepiece of the adtech issue: every time you visit a website or open an application on your mobile phone, countless trackers are reporting your activities back to thousands of adtech companies scattered all over the globe. They will, in turn, combine these reports into detailed profiles of your activities, interests and (presumed) personality and character.

You may wonder if and why this worldwide mobilisation is really necessary for the sake of advertising you a pair of shoes (or any other article they may want to sell you) but fear no more! The adtech industry is making sure not to ask your opinion on this subject, and employs several shenanigans to trick you into giving your consent and approval to being abused.

On top of that, this booklet will also help you understand other “dark corners” of this industry, such as

What solutions to adtech?

Adtech is a market failure that brings no appreciable benefits to any of the parties involved, except for the bad guys. In this regard, the booklet presents some very interesting proposals for a radical and systemic reform of the sector. These include

  • Bringing users back at the centre of the adtech system, by allowing them to choose as well as to exercise their data rights effectively;
  • Prohibiting adtech companies to rely on disproportionate surveillance practices to track individuals, while shielding their liability behind endless intermediation and data transfers;
  • Curbing big tech power and busting market concentration, to free publishers and content creators from the unfair contractual power of online platforms and adtech intermediaries.

While these plans are meant to influence EU policymaking, the issues under the lens of this booklet (and the solution it outlines) are certainly cross-cutting. For instance, the battle for enforcement against the adtech sector is ongoing, where we are taking the ICO to the tribunal over their failure to enforce data protection law against Google and the Interactive Advertising Bureau. On top of that, the Competition and Markets Authority is being particularly active in issues such as online advertising, digital trustbusting, and algorithmic discrimination.

The way forward

Aligning regulatory standards greatly benefits individuals and allows businesses to compete on merit. In this regard, the UK has its data protection framework rooted in the GDPR, which in turn is leading to the introduction of similar laws all around the world and even in the US. This is not the only opportunity for the UK tough: after Brexit, the country withdrew from the only rotten bit of the EU data protection framework — the One-Stop-Shop mechanism, that is allowing Ireland to disrupt GDPR enforcement in the entire EU block.

Unfortunately, the UK Government does not seem ready to capitalise on this opportunity to become the world-leading enforcer of data protection rules, but is instead heading the opposite (and wrong) way: for instance, by publishing 10 delusional tech priorities that never mention data protection, or by planning to turn the ICO into corporate lobbyists’ best friend.

Denying an issue is the perfect recipe for disaster, but we won’t stand by it. Open Rights Group will keep fighting for an effective data protection framework, as well as to hold the ICO accountable to their mandate.

Want to know more? Stay tuned or join us, and help us protect your rights in the digital age.

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