ICO calls on companies to eliminate existing privacy risks posed by adtech industry

November 30, 2021

The ICO has issued an Opinion setting out data protection standards that companies must meet to safeguard people’s privacy online when developing new advertising technologies. It says that technologies used in online advertising, and the way they are deployed, have the potential to be highly privacy intrusive.

Since 2019, industry has developed several initiatives that seek to address the risks adtech poses and shift towards less intrusive tracking and profiling practices. These include proposals from Google and other market participants to phase out the use of “third party cookies” and other forms of cross-site tracking and replace them with alternatives. Currently, one of the most significant proposals in the online advertising space is the Google Privacy Sandbox, which aims to replace the use of third party cookies with alternative technologies that still enable targeted digital advertising.

The ICO has been working with the CMA to review how Google’s plans will safeguard people’s personal data while, at the same time, supporting the CMA’s mission of ensuring competition in digital markets.

The ICO expects any proposal to:

  • engineer data protection requirements by default into the design of the initiative;
  • offer users the choice of receiving adverts without tracking, profiling or targeting based on personal data;
  • be transparent about how and why personal data is processed across the ecosystem and who is responsible for that processing;
  • articulate the specific purposes for processing personal data and demonstrate how this is fair, lawful and transparent; and
  • address existing privacy risks and mitigate any new privacy risks that their proposal introduces. 

The ICO began intervening in the adtech industry in 2019, when it identified key privacy issues on real time bidding and on the use of cookies and similar technologies. It asked the industry to assess how they used personal data and to start changing their practices. Since then, companies have been developing solutions to address the ICO’s concerns and are moving towards less intrusive tracking practices. The Opinion aims to help companies shape their proposals.