AdTech’s flawed privacy promises: Why is data still up for grabs?

Welcome to the June edition of Spotlight, your monthly digest of what’s making news in the world of digital marketing and adtech.

What we have for you today: Marketers persevere with invasive practices, publishers share user data far and wide, and Google’s Privacy Sandbox comes under further scrutiny.

Are marketers playing fast and loose with privacy?

It’s been a full six years since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force, and in the intervening years a large number of similar laws have passed worldwide. There have also been a growing body of cases where companies have been fined eye-watering amounts for privacy breaches.

Yet despite all this, marketers are still taking data privacy risks. The view from a range of industry experts is that the adoption of privacy-first digital advertising practices is stalling, parts of the industry are walking “the knife-edge of what is legal” and operating invasive targeting beneath a veneer of compliance, and many marketers are relying on outdated targeting methods. The general view is that much more needs to be done. But there is some optimism, with privacy-protection fast becoming a differentiator for marketers, hopefully a better future lies ahead.

Publishers and tech platforms come under greater scrutiny

It’s not just digital marketers that are playing with fire when it comes to privacy. Cookie pop-ups now show the number of companies that websites share user data with. According to analysis by WIRED of the top 10,000 most popular websites, dozens of sites report sharing data with more than 1,000 companies, and thousands of other websites say they are sharing data with hundreds of firms.

Sharing data on this scale is clearly not sustainable in this changing regulatory environment. To safeguard both the consumer and the digital publishers and brands it is critical for first-party data owners to retain control of their data and ensure that it is not shared outside of a privacy-safe environment. What’s more data owners should also move away from directly sharing consumers’ data and focus instead on sharing anonymised audiences, as this does much more to preserve privacy.

New is not necessarily better

Importantly, marketers and publishers need to do due diligence on adtech services that claim to be privacy first. Google’s Privacy Sandbox is a case in point. Although it is being marketed as a privacy-compliant replacement for invasive tracking cookies, privacy campaigner NYOB is claiming that the solution does not in fact do away with tracking. Rather, with Sandbox, tracking is done within the browser by Google itself. NYOB has filed a GDPR complaint accordingly.

Its complaint chimes with a recent leak of Google documents which suggests that the company is already carrying our extensive surveillance. According to the leak, Google Search seems to track when and where a user clicks – and not just on Google’s core site, but on any page accessed within the Google Chrome browser.

The message is clear – marketers and publishers need to take a long, hard look under the hoods of their adtech solutions to make sure that they are truly privacy-centric.

One law to rule them all

Just as the privacy credentials of digital marketing are once again being questioned, law makers and regulators are signalling increased scrutiny of this area. In the US, for example, a coalition of lobbying groups is pressing congress to change a draft consumer privacy legislation to ensure that the new federal law will override the current patchwork of state regulations. Whether this happens, or indeed if the proposed American Privacy Rights Act comes into force at all, will largely depend on the outcome of the next presidential election, but it is certainly to be welcomed if it does.

Revenge of the publishers

Finally, Google is facing yet more legal challenges over what are seen as anticompetitive advertising practices. The UK’s Competition Appeal Tribunal has just given the green light for a coalition of more than 200,000 website publishers to bring proceedings against the tech giant for allegedly manipulating the online advertising market. The group claims that Google’s anti-competitive practices have resulted in them losing out on hundreds of thousands of pounds over the past decade.

Hopefully, this and other similar legal challenges will drive change. The adtech ecosystem needs more fragmentation and competition if it is to continue to innovate and serve the needs of publishers, advertisers and consumers effectively.

More from Novatiq

Last month, we attended Telecoms World Middle East, which took place in Dubai. One of the main topics of discussion was around the use of AI to ensure that customer experiences are optimised all the way from purchase through to support and then on to cross/upselling.

Another key theme at the event was how telcos can best optimise their networks, with 5G figuring heavily in the debate. It’s great to see how quickly 5G is developing in the region, as this will lay the groundwork for application-layer propositions and new revenue streams for operators (not least telco-verified IDs!).

Sustainability was also a big topic at the show. This is also a major focus for Novatiq as the adtech industry is one of the most resource-intensive industries out there. Through our telco-enabled services we can help address this issue by removing waste from the programmatic advertising process.

Regarding telco-verified IDs, we’re seeing adoption rates increasing in the Middle East and the time to market decreasing – although uptake by publishers lags the West. Organisations that have deployed these IDs are seeing huge benefits. One major regional telco, for example, has seen a 68% reduction in marketing spend for their own marketing, a 12% increase in engagement, and a 6% reduction in bounce rates over a three-month period compared to using tracking cookies.

If you’re a publisher in the Middle East and would like to learn more about telco-verified IDs, please get in touch. Likewise, if you’re a telco and would like to tap into this great revenue-boosting opportunity we would love to hear from you.

As always, you can also learn more by reading our latest blogs. You can read our latest posts here.

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