ICO ‘cosies up’ to industry in bid to tackle adtech issue

gdpr n1The Information Commissioner’s Office is aiming to shore up its 700-strong workforce by bringing a raft of industry professionals to work on secondment – especially those with expertise in adtech, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity – boasting that companies which agree to let their staff switch could gain “reputational benefits”.

In a blogpost, ICO executive director for technology and innovation Simon McDougall said: “We have significantly expanded our permanent workforce over the last two years but we are also keen to increase the variety and number of people who join us on temporary secondment from other organisations.

“Secondments help support the ICO’s varied and influential work by bringing in specialist expertise, fresh thinking and new ways of looking at or doing things.

“Secondees gain new knowledge, skills and experience from working at the ICO which will not only improve their own personal expertise and boost their CVs but will also make them better and more valuable employees when they return.

“There may even be a reputational benefit for organisations whose staff are considered suitable to work with us, and we welcome direct contact from employers willing to second members of their staff to the ICO.”

By its own admission, the regulator is lacking in many areas, but the most pressing area would appear to be adtech. In February, it called on the ad industry to help it determine how best to police real-time bidding (RTB) after admitting it needs to develop an understanding of all aspects of “this complex ecosystem”.

And, in June, it published a damning report into the adtech industry, insisting its “immature” understanding of data protection is triggering the mass unlawful use of consumer data for RTB systems, leaving millions of users at risk of potential harm.

At the time, it gave the industry six months to get its house in order, although many data protection experts believe the regulator is still “pussy-footing” around the tech sector, especially since it only committed to potentially issuing further guidance, rather than enforcement action.

In response, London Media Exchange chief executive Dan Wilson said: “The ICO has punctured the tin but not ripped the lid off. How data is used within RTB-based advertising has been flagged as a systemic risk to privacy. They can’t issue statements like that and walk away.”

In response to the call for secondees, one industry source said: “The ICO already has one of the biggest workforces in global data protection enforcement – and one of the biggest budgets – but it still does not have the right expertise.

“Maybe this move is a tacit admission that the only way the ICO can find a solution to the RTB issue is to cosy up to the adtech industry rather than try to batter it. Like it or not, the tech sector is highly powerful and they will fight tooth and nail against any ICO action and they have the money to drag this through the courts for years.”

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