UK Ad Tech Industry Given Six Month To Clean Up Its Act As Australian Industry Prepares For Judgement Day

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It’s been a big week for the ad tech industry around the world, but here in Australia, it could just be getting started.

In the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) last week handed down a scathing review of the current online advertising industry, arguing the industry in its current shape is operating illegally.

“The ad tech industry appears immature in its understanding of data protection requirements,” says the ICO’s report.

“Whilst the automated delivery of ad impressions is here to stay, we have general, systemic concerns around the level of compliance of real-time bidding (RTB).”

The review followed multiple complaints to European regulators that argued real-time bidding is in breach of GDPR regulations, introduced by the EU last year.

Among one of the key findings is the conclusion ‘dropping trackers’ like cookies, which track user behaviour online, are being obtained without consent, thus making them illegal.

There are also concerns around the potentially sensitive information being collected in the process of RTB.

“The creation and sharing of personal data profiles about people, to the scale we’ve seen, feels disproportionate, intrusive and unfair, particularly when people are often unaware it is happening,” said the Commissioner.

The industry has now been given six months to clean up its act, during which time the ICO will consult with the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe and Google to ensure they become compliant.

A local perspective

And while the British regulator’s report has no direct impact on the Australian industry, it could soon prove to be part of a global trend.

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) long-awaited digital platforms inquiry is due to be handed to the Treasurer on June 30.

Released in December last year, the preliminary report pointed to problems with digital platforms like Google favouring their own business interests through their ad tech services.

More recently ACCC chair Rod Sims suggested “the lack of clarity around ad tech” disadvantages online media businesses’ ability to monetise their content via advertising opportunities.

“The argument that has been put to us is that the opacity around the delivery of programmatic advertising may make it difficult for advertisers to effectively value and compare the price of advertisements placed next to premium media content and advertising opportunities on other websites,” he said at a ThinkTV & ANAA event earlier this year.

While the ACCC’s digital platform inquiry will no doubt place the emphasis on how these technologies impact competition, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has welcomed the preliminary report and will no doubt examine how the findings relate to the privacy protections of Australia, as the ICO in the UK has.

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