Complaint against the AdTech industry body, the IAB, and Google in the Upper Tribunal

Jim Killock and Michael Veale are today at the Upper Tribunal asking for their Complaint against the AdTech industry body, the IAB, and Google to be reopened, after the ICO closed it without taking action against it. The ICO’s investigation into “Real Time Bidding” continues, with the ICO having shut Mr Killock and Dr Veale out of the progress of their own complaint.  

The hearing will consider whether the ICO was entitled to close the complaint without taking substantive action to finalise the complaint while the AdTech investigation continues, or whether it has acted inappropriately. If successful, the ICO will need to take more care to ensure that it deals with complaints appropriately.

Jim Killock and Michael Veale complained about the Adtech industry and “Real Time Bidding” to the UK’s ICO in September 2018. Johnny Ryan of the ICCL submitted a parallel complaint against Google about their Adtech system to the Irish Data Protection Authority. Dr Ryan, Dr Veale and Mr Killock are represented by Ravi Naik of AWO. Parallel complaints to the Belgian DPA are now advancing towards a decision.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, said:

“The ICO must act and hold the AdTech industry to account. It cannot ignore our complaints; such as tactic risks indefinite delay of enforcement against this industry. Millions of individuals data, including mine and yours, gets collected, shared and profiled unlawfully everyday. Our compaints were filed over two years ago and still these abuses go on. The risks are enormous and need to be addressed by the regulator, not endlessly discussed.”

Dr Michael Veale said:

“The ICO has failed to regulate illegal adtech for well over a decade, and are uncomfortable with the idea of complainants holding them to account for these continued failings. You can’t nudge deep unlawfulness into compliance over a cup of tea – the ICO needs to be willing use their powers against a sector that is out-of-control.

“If the ICO is allowed to dispose of complainants after they have investigated their concerns and found serious, widespread illegality, we have little hope for enforcement of the many complex data protection issues present today. The Information Commissioner has wide discretion, but there are limits. She does not have the discretion to decide whether or not to be held to account, and she does not have the discretion to close the door on a bonfire of online data rights just because it looks daunting to fix.”

Ravi Naik, Legal Director of AWO, said:

“The Upper Tribunal is being asked to consider the ICO’s decision to close our clients’ complaints – despite the investigation into those complaints continuing.  The ICO’s position would make the entire data protection regime hollow. We are confident that the Upper Tribunal will not let this position stand. It is in everyone’s interests that the ICO properly handles complaints – and is held to account when they do not.”

A complaint to the ICO was made in September 2018 by Jim Killock and Dr Michael Veale to the ICO about the systemic breaches of the GDPR by the AdTech industry, focusing on the role of the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau), a trade industry body as the rule setter.

The ICO’s investigation which was concluded in June 2019 found the AdTech industry to be in breach of the GDPR with widespread and systemic problems with industry practices such as collecting and sharing people’s browsing history without any control over who ends up accessing such personal information. [1]

However, despite founding unlawful practices, the ICO decided to close the investigation in September 2020 without taking any substantive action. [2] The ICO had also ‘paused’ enforcement during the first COVID lockdown. [3] It subsequently reopened the investigation. [4]

The co-complainants (Jim Killock and Dr Michael Veale) are now taking the regulator to the Upper Tribunal over its refusal to take substantive action against what their own investigation concluded were very serious and extensive unlawful practices and their closing of their complaint. 



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Notes to the Editor

[1] The ICO’s investigation concluded that:

  • Adtech companies collect and share people’s browsing histories but have no practical control where this information ends up
  • Given this astounding lack of basic security, other rights such as consent access to data are unobtainable
  • That the industry relies on spurious legal arguments to justify widespread poor practice

[2] See correspondence between ICO and ORG, available on request


[4] and