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The latest developments on data privacy for the ad industry

Fluid Ads takes a deeper look into all things data privacy on both sides of the Atlantic. There’s no hotter topic in the ad industry than data privacy.

GDPR has been in place in the UK for just over a year, California is set to bring in new laws imminently, while the race is on to put federal legislation in place in the US. These are the biggest developments on data privacy in the last few months. 

GDPR one year on
With so much noise around GDPR, it feels like the regulations have been around forever, when in fact they only came into force a year ago.

First up, a quick summary.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has seven fundamental principles, which are: Lawfulness, Fairness and Transparency. Purpose Limitation. Data Minimisation.

To be compliant businesses in the EU need to:

  • Access all their data sources
  • Identify the personal data that can be found in each
  • Govern how personal data is used across that organisation
  • Implement the correct level of protection for the personal data
  • Audit how that business uses personal data

The knock-on effects for individual businesses and the advertising industry felt revolutionary a year ago, but then things went quiet.

Until recently.

The biggest developments we’ve seen in relation to GDPR have seen some big fines for some major players.

In July this year it was announced that Marriott is to be fined almost £100million by the Information Commissioner’s Office after hackers stole the records of 339 million guests. This came just two days after the first fine issued by the ICO when British Airways received a fine of £183million following a data hack involving 500,000 of their customers.

The ICO is getting serious about data privacy and the big fines are set to continue. Get a quick recap on what is GDPR.

GDPR in the US?

Things are looking a little more complicated in the US.

What we know is that in 2020, California’s Consumer Data Protection Act comes into effect. Whilst this is ultimately a good thing, it effectively puts a deadline on a federal law being implemented. If the federal legislation doesn’t come into play by this point this could lead to a situation whereby each state puts in place its own data protection laws.

The impact this could have on brands and tech companies trying to navigate over 50 different interpretations could be catastrophic.

So, what’s Congress’ current position on the federal law? They’ve been quiet, but the industry itself has been making all the noise.

What we’ve currently seen is that five of the ad industry’s largest trade bodies have come together to create a coalition called “Privacy for America” with the aim to sway Congress to create the federal legislation on consumer data privacy.

The bodies include the 4 As: Association of National Advertisers, Digital Advertising Alliance, Interactive Advertising Bureau and Network Advertising Initiative and they’ve detailed that they want legislation that “would strengthen privacy oversight and enforcement by creating a new Data Protection Bureau at the FTC”.

Without detailing exactly what this looks like, they want restrictions on advertising to be “significant”, which could include banning certain types of data from being collected or used for advertising.

We’ll keep you updated on any further developments.

Tech industry driven changes

But what about the tech companies themselves?

You can always expect Uber and Apple to be way out front when it comes to pioneering the latest tech developments. And they are, but it appears they may have taken their inspiration from an unlikely source; the US Government.

Specifically, the US Census Bureau is pioneering a new form of data privacy protection called “differential privacy”.

It is basically a form a data encryption enabling researchers to accurately analyse entire data sets while at the same time protecting individual data points. Trends can be taken from the data, including citizenship in certain areas for example, without individuals being able to be re-identified.

But how accurate is it?

It does offset a little inaccuracy with ensuring data privacy protection. Sophisticated algorithms can be built for complex data grouping, while keeping identification hidden, with the data sets said to be “fairly accurate”.

For Apple, this means that data can be collected across devices, while maintaining that the devices don’t track individuals themselves.

And what does this mean for the advertising industry?

It effectively means that sensitive data doesn’t need to be passed from publishers or ad-tech providers to brands when illustrating measurement and the effectiveness of ads and campaigns. Data such as age, gender and location of individuals may become protected, while top level trends are still illustrated. How accurate this is may be questionable at this stage.

Whether this approach becomes uniform and how it will ultimately impact digital advertising remains to be seen.

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