The only way to smash Google’s vice-like grip on the online advertising market is for data protection authorities to properly enforce GDPR, rather than sit on their hands and wait for the real-time bidding industry to fix itself.
That is the stark conclusion of a 15-page, 4,300-word submission to the UK Competition & Markets Authority from tech start-up Brave, a long-term critic of both RTB and Google, which has also filed joint GDPR complaints about the issue to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office and the Irish Data Protection Commission.
The CMA is currently consulting on a full-blown investigation into the £13bn UK digital ad industry, with a key focus being the duopoly of Google and Facebook.
The CMA’s initial “online platforms and digital advertising market study” revealed that, in 2018, Google accounted for more than 90% of all revenues earned from search advertising in the UK, with revenues of around £6bn, while in the same year, Facebook accounted for almost half of all display advertising revenues in the UK, reaching more than £2bn.
While conceding that ‘big’ is not necessarily ‘bad’ – and that the platforms have brought innovative and valuable products and services to the market – the CMA said it was concerned that their position may have become entrenched with negative consequences for the people and businesses who use their services every day.
However, it is Google’s control of the RTB market which is the focus of the Brave submission. It argues that a functional RTB market requires two dimensions of data protection enforcement: internal and external.
Google’s monopoly is based on its “internal” data free-for-all. Enforcement of GDPR would neutralise Google’s unfair data advantage, and give consumers power tantamount to “functional separation” of Google’s businesses, Brave insists. At the same time, the company asserts that it is also necessary to enforce against the “external” data free-for-all between the thousands of companies in the RTB market.
Brave’s submission concludes with five recommendations for the CMA. Key among these is calling on the ICO to act against the external RTB data breach, and to begin to enforce against Google’s internal data free-for-all.
The ICO has been struggling to come to terms with RTB for nearly two years, following the first GDPR complaints over real-time bidding filed by Brave, the Open Rights Group and University College London.
Last month, the same complainants threatened to push for a judicial review of the ICO after accusing it of failing to act on the adtech issue, which they branded “the largest data breach ever recorded”.
And last week, Decision Marketing revealed that the ICO is now seeking to gain the inside track on adtech by recruiting principal technology advisers with online advertising industry experience, although it could struggle to find senior people with the salary on offer.
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