Insights Information Commissioner’s Office resumes investigation into real time bidding and the adtech industry


In a statement, Simon McDougall, ICO Deputy Commissioner – Regulatory Innovation and Technology, explained that the ICO had paused its investigation into real time bidding (RTB) and the adtech industry in May 2020 to concentrate on responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. The ICO has now resumed the investigation.

Mr McDougall said that the “complex” system of RTB can use sensitive personal data to serve adverts and requires people’s explicit consent, “which is not happening right now”. Further, he said, sharing personal data with potentially hundreds of companies, without properly assessing and addressing the risk of these counterparties “raises questions around the security and retention of this data”.

The ICO’s work will continue with a series of audits focusing on digital market platforms, and it will be issuing assessment notices to specific companies in the coming months. It is hoped that the outcome of these audits will give the ICO a clearer picture of the state of the industry.

Mr McDougall also said that following the ICO’s data broking investigation into offline direct marketing services and enforcement action for Experian in October 2020, the ICO will also be reviewing the role of data brokers in the adtech eco-system, as data broking also plays a large part in RTB”.

Mr McDougall noted that the investigation is “vast and complex”. Further, because of the sensitivity of the work, “there will be times where it won’t be possible to provide regular updates”. However, the ICO is “committed to publishing our final findings, once the investigation is concluded”.

Mr McDougall stressed that all organisations operating in the adtech space should be assessing how they use personal data “as a matter of urgency”. He noted that the ICO already has existing, comprehensive guidance in this area, which applies to RTB and adtech in the same way it does to other types of processing, particularly in respect of consent, legitimate interests, data protection by design and data protection impact assessments (DPIAs). To read Mr McDougall’s statement in full, click here.