ICO may have slowed down on AdTech, but we’re up and running

The ongoing coronavirus crisis may have pulled the brake on the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) enforcement of your rights, but online advertising companies are doing just fine. Every time you visit a website, your personal information are merged with millions of bits and pieces of your past online activities, and used by thousands of perfect strangers for a variety of reasons: selling advertisement, influencing your political views, or telling the authorities if you’re literally a terrorist.

Open Rights Group (ORG) has long been campaigning against Real Time Bidding, the system by which the advertising industry decided to deliver you commercials in the least efficient but most unethical manner they could come up with. Here are some of our last efforts:

We provided evidence to the European Commission for effective GDPR enforcement

Two years ago, ORG promoted a complaint against Google and the Internet Bureau of Advertisement, an initiative which has now grown up to encompassing more than 21 complaints all around Europe. In such cases, the GDPR provides for a cooperation mechanisms, which should allow Data Protection Authorities (DPAs) to effectively cooperate and enforce our fundamental right to privacy. However, two years after our first complaint we are still waiting for any significant action, either by the ICO or the other regulatory authorities involved.

This is why we decided to contribute to the European Union report concerning the application of the GDPR, and share our experience concerning the functioning of the cooperation mechanism. In particular, we proposed

  • the implementation of appropriate guidelines and procedures, to encourage DPAs to proactively deal with complaints;
  • to give DPAs the resources and qualified personnel they need, to enforce their decisions against “big tech” corporations.

You can find our submission in our publications section, as well as the original submission to the EU website.

We made the case for a substantial reform of the advertising industry to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports

The good news is that we are not the only ones who noticed this system is broken. The bad news is, the way forward is paved with some misconceptions. This is why we answered to the call for evidence of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and challenged the view that the GDPR could be used by large technology companies to twist the market to their own advantage.

The argument that big companies alone would have the competence and resources to meet GDPR standards is not new, although ill conceived: why should “big tech” benefit so much from their unique ability to respect your privacy, if they are so tirelessly committed to disregard it? On the contrary, the problem is to be found in lack of regulatory enforcement, which allows them to compete at your expenses, as well as those of the companies that respect the law.

A system that awards the worst and the dishonest cannot be at the heart of a thriving digital industry, nor be a good starting point for a safer Internet. We explained to the DCMS how effective enforcement of the GDPR would curb illegal behaviours, for the benefit of businesses and citizens alike.

You can find our submission in our publications section.

Next steps ahead

Online advertisement is a fundamental piece of today’s Internet: this is why it is important to fix it before turning one of the biggest invention in history in a living dystopia. ORG will keep fighting against this state of affairs, and compel regulators to enforce the law.

Find out more at our campaign page, or join us and let’s shape a better Internet together.