Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

FROM Fri­day, the EU’S new Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion (GDPR) will be in ef­fect and Euro­pean cit­i­zens will have greater con­trol and over­sight over how their data is used. The most ob­vi­ous man­i­fes­ta­tion of this to date? A del­uge of emails, pop-ups and other mes­sages from sites and ser­vices about up­dated pri­vacy poli­cies.

But plenty of busi­nesses are also strug­gling with sim­i­larly turgid terms and con­di­tions.

One sec­tor that’s well used to strug­gles is dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing. And GDPR has opened up a whole new can of worms for dig­i­tal pub­lish­ers that rely on ad­ver­tis­ing. Google’s Dou­bleclick is the tech­nol­ogy that al­most all web­sites use to serve ads. And the search gi­ant is chang­ing the terms of use of ad-serv­ing tech­nol­ogy to com­ply with GDPR.

There’s no doubt GDPR has the po­ten­tial to be a long-term boon to Euro­pean busi­nesses. It will also place Europe ahead of the rest of the world in terms of data pro­tec­tion and it will force Euro­pean firms to in­no­vate in re­la­tion to users’ pri­vacy. But, in the short term, there’s a feel­ing that Google is us­ing its mar­ket dom­i­nance to en­sure its con­tin­ued dom­i­nance. So just how pushy is Google get­ting with dig­i­tal pub­lish­ers?

Well, it is in­sist­ing that the pub­lisher is a co-con­troller of any data used to serve per­son­alised ads.

That means web­sites must ob­tain end users’ con­sent to use and store cookies, to col­lect and share per­sonal data — in­clud­ing IP ad­dresses — that al­low for the per­son­al­i­sa­tion of ads. As a re­sult, web­sites are go­ing to have to start telling you which ad­ver­tis­ers can ac­cess your in­for­ma­tion on their sites, what those ad­ver­tis­ers are do­ing with that data, and keep a record of users’ pri­vacy set­tings. Ex­pect more pop up mes­sages. Lots of them.

Where web­sites can’t get con­sent from users for their data to be shared, Google is of­fer­ing a new, non-per­son­alised ad of­fer­ing. These ads won’t use cookies for per­son­al­i­sa­tion, but they do use cookies to fa­cil­i­tate fre­quency cap­ping, re­port­ing, and to com­bat fraud. Pub­lish­ers, there­fore, still need to get con­sent for the ads for which they don’t need con­sent. It’s all gone a bit Catch 22.

There are other prob­lems. Be­cause the pro­gram­matic ad­ver­tis­ing sup­ply chain is both murky and dy­namic, web­site own­ers can’t tell who’s bid­ding on their in­ven­tory.

There isn’t al­ways a com­pre­hen­sive list of ad­ver­tis­ers that can ap­pear on their pages. So pub­lish­ers have no way of in­form­ing users who might be us­ing their IP ad­dresses to serve per­son­alised ads. Any pub­lisher that ac­cepts re­spon­si­bil­ity for gath­er­ing the con­sent to serve ads is also open­ing them­selves up to con­sid­er­able risk. If they fail to ob­tain con­sent on Google’s be­half, they can be fined 4pc of their an­nual turnover.

Google has also ruf­fled feath­ers by not yet sign­ing up to the In­ter­ac­tive Ad­ver­tis­ing Bu­reau’s GDPR frame­work. This frame­work is far from per­fect, and hasn’t had much overt sup­port from pub­lish­ers, but it is an at­tempt at an in­de­pen­dent stan­dard­ised ap­proach to safe­guard­ing users’ on­line se­cu­rity.

Google’s ab­sence leaves it dead in the wa­ter and leaves pub­lish­ers with­out any a uni­fied ap­proach to man­ag­ing con­sent. Google has said it is work­ing with IAB Europe to sup­port the frame­work, but hasn’t said whether it would reg­is­ter as a ven­dor.

Pub­lish­ers haven’t been shy in voic­ing their ir­ri­ta­tion to Google. Late last month, four ma­jor pub­lisher trade groups boast­ing a joint mem­ber­ship of about 4,000 news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines, wrote to Google. They didn’t hold back.

They ac­cused Google of brinkman­ship, say­ing it was wait­ing to the last minute to an­nounce its GDPR plans, giv­ing pub­lish­ers lit­tle time to as­sess the le­gal­ity or fair­ness of their pro­pos­als. They ac­cused Google of look­ing af­ter num­ber one, say­ing Google was more con­cerned with pro­tect­ing its busi­ness model rather than help­ing pub­lish­ers to com­ply with the let­ter and spirit of the law.

They also said Google is po­ten­tially over­step­ping the mark by claim­ing it’s a co-con­troller of the data it re­ceives from pub­lish­ers or col­lects on pub­lisher pages. “Claim­ing such broad rights over all data in the ecosys­tem”, the let­ter says, “with­out full dis­clo­sure and with­out pro­vid­ing pub­lish­ers the op­tion for Google to act as a pro­ces­sor for cer­tain types of data, ap­pears to be an in­ten­tional abuse of your mar­ket power.”

This is fight­ing talk from the pub­lisher trade groups. But time is run­ning out. The big question is come next Fri­day, will they have soft­ened their cough? Will they have re­luc­tantly been forced to agree to Google’s terms? Do they have any choice?

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