Responding to ICO's announcement today that the regulator is taking minimal steps to enforce the law against massive data breaches taking place in the online ad industry through "Real-Time Bidding", complainants Jim Killock and Michael Veale have called on the regulator to enforce the law.
The complainants are considering taking legal action against the regulator. Legal action could be taken against the ICO for failure to enforce, or against the companies themselves for their breaches of Data Protection law.
The "Real-Time Bidding" data breach at the heart of RTB market exposes every person in the UK to mass profiling, and the attendant risks of manipulation and discrimination.
As the evidence submitted by the complainants notes, the real-time bidding systems designed by Google and the IAB broadcast what virtually all Internet users read, watch, and listen to online to thousands of companies, without protection of the data once broadcast. Now, sixteen months after the initial complaint, the ICO has failed to act.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group said:
"The ICO is a regulator, so needs to enforce the law. It appears to be accepting that unlawful and dangerous sharing of personal data can continue, so long as 'improvements' are gradually made, with no actual date for compliance.
"Last year the ICO gave a deadline for an industry response to our complaints. Now the ICO is falling into the trap set by industry, of accepting incremental but minimal changes that fail to deliver individuals the control of their personal data that they are legally entitled to.
"The ICO must take enforcement action against IAB members.
"We are considering our position, including whether to take legal action against the regulator for failing to act, or individual companies for their breach of data protection law."
Dr Michael Veale said: "When an industry is premised and profiting from clear and entrenched illegality that breach individuals' fundamental rights, engagement is not a suitable remedy. The ICO cannot continue to look back at its past precedents for enforcement action, because it is exactly that timid approach that has led us to where we are now".
Ravi Naik, solicitor acting for the complainants, said "There is no dispute about the underlying illiegality at the heart of RTB that our clients have complained about. The ICO have agreed with those concerns yet the companies have not taken adequate steps to address those conerns. Nevertheless, the ICO has failed to take direct enforcement action needed to remedy these breaches.
"Regulatory ambivalence cannot continue. The ICO is not a silo but is subject to judicial oversight. Indeed, the ICO's failure to act raises a question about the adequacy of the UK Data Protection Act. Is there proper judicial oversight of the ICO? This is a critical question after Brexit, when the UK needs to agree data transfer arrangements with the EU that cover all industries."
Dr Johnny Ryan of Brave said "the RTB system broadcasts what everyone is reading and watching online, hundreds of billions of times a day, to thousands of companies. It is by far the largest data breach ever recorded. The risks are profound. Brave will support ORG to ensure that the ICO discharges its responsibilities."
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 Brave submitted a parallel complaint against Google about their Adtech system to the Irish Data Protection Authority.
Notes to the editor