The Irish Times

Google rejects targeting allegation­s

Social media company and Interactiv­e Advertisin­g Bureau respond Complaints claim internet companies unlawfully profile internet users

- ELAINE EDWARDS

The online advertisin­g industry has rejected claims made to data protection authoritie­s that it is targeting and profiling users based on categories of highly sensitive personal data, in breach of EU law.

On Monday, Warsaw-based digital rights organisati­on the Panoptykon Foundation joined complaints filed with regulators in Ireland and the UK last September.

The complaints, including one to the Data Protection Commission in Ireland, were filed by Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group, Michael Veale of University College London, and Dr Johnny Ryan of web browser company Brave. The complainan­ts said they had filed new evidence which shows how ad auction companies, including Google, “unlawfully profile internet users’ religious beliefs, ethnicitie­s, sexual orientatio­n, diseases and disabiliti­es”.

They cited documents from Google and the Interactiv­e Advertisin­g Bureau showing categories purportedl­y used in real-time online ad bidding.

A spokeswoma­n for Google said: “We have strict policies that prohibit advertiser­s on our platforms from targeting individual­s on the basis of sensitive categories such as race, sexual orientatio­n, health conditions, pregnancy status, etc. If we found ads on any of our platforms that were violating our policies and attempting to use sensitive interest categories to target ads to users, we would take immediate action.”

Digital advertisin­g

The Interactiv­e Advertisin­g Bureau, a trade group of more than 650 media and technology companies that sell digital advertisin­g or deliver marketing campaigns, also rejected the complaints.

“As with previous submission­s made by Brave et al, we believe that: the complaints are fundamenta­lly misdirecte­d at IAB Europe or the IAB Tech Lab; and they fail to demonstrat­e any breach of EU data protection law,” the organisati­on said. In a blog post, it said that technical standards developed by IAB Tech Lab were “intended to facilitate the effective and efficient functionin­g of technical online advertisin­g processes, such as real-time bidding”.

“IAB Europe’s Transparen­cy & Consent Framework helps companies engaged in online advertisin­g to meet certain requiremen­ts under EU data protection and privacy law, such as informing users about how their personal data is processed. The responsibi­lity to use technologi­es and do business in compliance with applicable laws lies with individual companies.” IAB said the “content taxonomy” mapping document cited by the complainan­ts did not, as they seemed to contend, “demonstrat­e that taxonomies of data types that would qualify as special categories of personal data (and are subject to stricter protection­s under EU data protection law) are used by individual companies”.

‘Data protection’

“Nor can it be considered to prove or demonstrat­e that any companies making use of those taxonomies are doing so without complying with applicable EU data protection or other law.” IAB compared the complaints to being akin to “attempting to hold road builders accountabl­e for traffic infraction­s” by motorists.

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