The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has resumed its investigation into the country’s Â£ 13 billion online advertising industry after an almost nine-month hiatus due to the pandemic.
The watchdog said in January last year it would start investigating the UK’s IT sector after finding evidence of widespread non-compliance with the general regulations of the EU on data protection.
But the investigation was halted in May, with the regulator citing a reluctance to put “undue pressure on an industry for the time being.” He added, however, that his “concerns about adtech remain and we aim to restart our work in the coming months.”
In particular, the ICO’s survey will focus on real-time bidding, the process by which advertisements are selected to be served to users on the Internet. These digital auctions, which take place within milliseconds of web pages loading, offer little chance of obtaining user consent and can sometimes use sensitive âspecial categoryâ data, such as sexual and political orientation.
“Enabling transparency and protecting vulnerable citizens are priorities for the ICO,” said Simon McDougall, ICO Deputy Commissioner for Regulatory Innovation and Technology. “The complex real-time auction system can use people’s sensitive personal data to serve advertisements and requires people’s explicit consent, which is not currently the case.”
The ICO also said it will study the role of data brokers in the adtech ecosystem. Regulators have been concerned for years about how the industry handles personal data, with third parties collecting information ranging from religion and gender to net worth.
In October, the ICO completed an investigation into the data brokerage activities of the credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It also served an execution notice on Experian, requiring it to “make fundamental changes to the way it treats the personal data of people within its direct marketing departments.”
Mark Thompson, global head of privacy advisory practices at KPMG, welcomed the decision to resume the investigation. “While many in the industry breathed a sigh of relief when the ICO initially suspended its investigation, today’s announcement should come as no surprise and should be seen as a real signal of intent to from the regulator. “