A new investigation is being launched into how online advertisers are using behavioural data for micro-targeting, in a move which could ultimately lead to a major clampdown on the practice.
The probe is one of the first tasks to be undertaken by the UK’s Centre of Data Ethics & Innovation (CDEI), chaired by Roger Taylor, the founder of healthcare data firm Dr Foster, with panel members including Starcount chief executive Edwina Dunn and former Ofcom chair Dame Patricia Hodgson.
The CDEI will investigate how behavioural data is used to shape online experiences through personalisation, micro-targeting, and retargeting, where companies use search data to follow consumers round the Internet.
The review will explore where, how and why online targeting approaches are used, and their impact on members of the public. The CDEI is launching a series of nationwide workshops to investigate public views on the acceptability of micro-targeting.
It will also look in more detail at a number of different applications of online targeting in a variety of areas, whether organisations are using data responsibly, and how any gaps in existing governance frameworks might be best addressed.
The CDEI will also work closely with other organisations which are undertaking similar work in this area, including the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport which is conducting a review of online ad regulation, and the Information Commissioner’s Office, which is on a fact finding mission to determine how best to police the programmatic advertising market.
Culure Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “Anyone who has searched for a product and then seen adverts for similar products appear in their browser has experienced micro-targeting, so the CDEI will lead an investigation to see how and why online targeting techniques are used and what the harms might be.”
Last week, a House of Lords report called for companies to be forced to publish an annual data transparency statement detailing the behavioural data they are purchasing from third parties, and how it is used, stored and transferred.
It also recommended that the ICO is given the powers to conduct impact-based audits where risks associated with using algorithms are greatest.
Some already insist that the behavioural advertising market – worth an estimated $273bn – is in breach of GDPR, claiming companies exploit personal information on users’ online behaviour without consent to target them with ads.
In September last year, tech start-up Brave, the Open Rights Group and University College London lodged official complaints with the ICO, the Irish Data Protection Commission, and the Polish regulator. In January, they provided further evidence of “systemic” breaches.
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