Behavioural advertising industry systematically breaking the law says ICO

Josh Hall's picture
by Josh Hall

Online behavioural advertising is routinely breaking UK and EU law.

This is according to a report from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which has investigated real-time-bidding (RTB) practices in online ads.

The ICO has been concerned about the privacy implications of targeted advertising. Now, it has said that the profiling techniques used by behavioural advertisers are leading to systematic law-breaking.

As TechCrunch reports, the ICO's report says: "“The adtech industry appears immature in its understanding of data protection requirements.

"Whilst the automated delivery of ad impressions is here to stay, we have general, systemic concerns around the level of compliance of RTB.”

The ICO's worries focus on a number of specific areas in behavioural advertising. In particular it suggests that profiling data is not being collected or handled lawfully, with users not being able to give explicit consent.

The watchdog has been particularly scathing about the popups displayed by advertisers to warn users about cookies, saying that the frameworks used to write these communications are "insufficient to ensure transparency and fair processing of the personal data in question and therefore also insufficient to provide for free and informed consent."

Additionally, the ICO says even if the ad industry was abiding by all of its other requirements, it is still collecting more data than it is entitled to in any case.

In comment accompanying the report, the ICO indicated that it will take further action to ensure compliance with the law. It said: “Our work has highlighted the lack of maturity of some market participants, and the ongoing commercial incentives to associate personal data with bid requests. We do not think these issues will be addressed without intervention.

"We are therefore planning a measured and iterative approach, so that we act decisively and transparently, but also in ways in which we can observe the markets reaction and adapt our approach accordingly.”

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