IAB UK calls for real-time bidding review

Information Commissioner's Office is concerned sensitive user data is being broadcast to online advertisers via real-time bidding.

RTB: People's data is broadcast to advertisers bidding for an ad when a user loads a web page
RTB: People's data is broadcast to advertisers bidding for an ad when a user loads a web page

The IAB UK is calling on its members involved in real-time bidding to review their current practices after last month’s highly critical report from Britain’s data protection watchdog.

The digital ad industry’s UK trade body said it would work closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office and IAB Europe to review how its policies can support ad tech companies to comply with data protection laws.

However, the IAB added it was incumbent on businesses themselves to take any necessary action now to ensure that they are meeting current standards

Last month the Information Commissioner’s Office called out the adtech industry over real-time bidding, the auction-based system in which targeted online ads are served to people. The ICO said it would report again in six months and warned the industry that "intrusive" practices needed to be addressed. 

During the RTB process, a wide range of data is broadcasted to multiple advertisers via an auction within a fraction of a second in order to serve an ad to a user browsing a web page.

The ICO’s report highlighted particular concern over the broadcast of "special category data", which comprises sensitive information about people’s religious beliefs, political opinions, or sexual orientation, and questioned how advertisers relied on contracts for getting user consent for data-sharing across the supply chain.

Over the following months, the IAB UK said it will be working closely with the ICO and IAB Europe to review the Transparency and Consent Framework – the IAB’s guide for complying with data protection laws.

But Johnny Ryan, chief policy and industry relations officer at tracking-blocking web browser service Brave, told Campaign he was concerned the IAB UK had not grasped the kernel of the issue. 

He said: "RTB is a data protection-free zone. It is true that the Transparency & Consent Framework is deeply flawed. But no improvement to it will solve the underlying security problem at the heart of real-time bidding.

"It is not possible to consent to a data breach. The IAB and Google should immediately fix their bid request specifications so that personal data are no longer broadcast."

Brave has been a leading complainant against RTB in 16 European countries.

Jon Mew, chief executive of IAB UK, said: "It’s in all of our interests to take the ICO’s report seriously and review current RTB practice. While we at the IAB will be working closely with the ICO and our members to help inform the consultation, industry support is vital. Now is our chance to proactively improve the adtech industry and shape a sustainable future. Let’s not waste this opportunity."