Big issues still to tackle in 2022: Online or off limits?

online this one2In the latest of our series re-examining the industry’s “big issues to tackle in 2017” we look at the online advertising industry to see what progress – if any – has been made.

Five years ago, the sector appeared hamstrung by the effectiveness debate, triggered by concerns that despite holding the lion’s share of all adspend, online viewability and measurement metrics were simply not robust enough.

But while these issues have not gone away, they have been superseded by the far more serious claims that the adtech industry is in breach of data protection laws.

The original complaint – filed with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner and the UK Information Commissioner’s Office – on behalf of tech start-up Brave, the Open Rights Group and University College London was lodged in September 2018, just months after GDPR came into force.

Aimed at triggering an EU-wide GDPR investigation into what was claimed to be the “biggest data breach of all time”, the complaint alleged that big tech was overseeing the selling of highly personal details tens of billions of times a day.

However, it has taken years to come to a head, with the UK Information Commissioner’s Office and the Irish DPC being accused of dragging their feet, although they argue that the complex nature of the industry is hampering enforcement efforts.

Now, the Belgian data protection authority is leading the charge. The Autorité de la Protection des Donnés (APD) first launched a probe into IAB Europe’s Transparency & Consent Framework – used by Google and thousands of others as the “official” framework – in 2019.

In November this year, it was reported that a ruling was imminent, finding the framework in breach of GDPR, much to the delight of privacy campaigners.

ICCL senior fellow Johnny Ryan, a long-term crusader against the adtech industry, said at the time: “We have won. The online advertising industry and its trade body, IAB Europe, have been found to have deprived hundreds of millions of Europeans of their fundamental rights.

“Google and the entire tracking industry relies on IAB Europe’s consent system, which will now be found to be illegal. IAB Europe created a fake consent system that spammed everyone, every day, and served no purpose other than to give a thin legal cover to the massive data breach in at the heart of online advertising. We hope the decision of the Belgian authority will finally force the online advertising industry to reform.”

However, in a sense, the battle has now moved on, with Google ditching third-party cookies and Apple issuing its iOS 14 update that allows users to turn off ad tracking.

Google’s replacement for cookies is being closely monitored and policed by the authorities, while Apple’s move has given the likes of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat a massive revenue headache.

Suddenly, companies are rushing to gather their own, first-party, data. This is also opening up new revenue streams for data firms, with both marketers and publishers looking to partner with companies who can help them knock their first-party data into shape, as well provide consumer identity and data privacy solutions.

According to one study, almost all marketers have at least some concerns over their first-party data assets, with accuracy the key issue, while an overwhelming 95% of publishers reported using supplemental data to enrich their first-party data assets. One in four publishers are also looking for help in finding quality data to enrich their first-party data, while 49% are currently using survey and panel data.

A separate study suggested that direct mail, TV, outdoor and radio will all see an increase in marketing spend as a result of the demise of third-party cookies, marking a return to less intrusive traditional disciplines.

Because it is not just businesses which are sitting up and taking notice; the changes have also seen consumer interest in data privacy soaring.

This, perhaps more than anything, is likely to be the real challenge for the future. After all, if you can’t get consumers on board, what exactly are you left with?

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