GDPR One Year On: why privacy is the new normal


By Mark Bembridge, founder and CEO of Smartology

Trust. Whether it’s on panel discussions, conversations with clients or poolside chats with industry peers there was only one conversation dominating Cannes Lions, the International celebration of advertising, this year.

Now, as the glitz and glamour come to an end for another year and the super-yachts sail off in to the distance, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has called into question the security and legality of the whole real-time bidding adtech ecosystem.

Real-time bidding refers to the programmatic buying and selling of online ad impressions through an auction process which occurs when a page impression occurs. It is estimated that this year, 65% of all spend on advertising in digital media will be traded programmatically

The use of first party cookies and similar technologies to collect information about a user when they visit a site is a well-used tactic by marketers. It’s why you’ve been followed around the internet by company trying to sell you a dress you may have viewed last week or why you’ll see ads promoting a cricket match because you’ve been reading about the Cricket World Cup.

However, consumers are fed up with their data being disrespected in this way and the ICO agrees. They’ve concluded that personal data is being widely used to buy adverts without user consent. They’ve given our industry six months to get our house in order.

Feeling the regulators bite

So how have we got to this point in a supposed post-GDPR world?

Well the first year of GDPR can be summed up as a year where our industry played a game of ‘wait and see’, or hid behind the excuse of ‘legitimate interest’ to carry on as business as usual.

Added to this, European regulators struggled to keep up with the demands that GDPR brought upon them, while businesses upskilled their workforce with data and compliance specialists.

Now, however, the regulators are starting to bear their teeth. Google was fined £44m by French authorities at the start of the year while GDPR complaints aimed at the real-time bidding (RTB) system have been filed in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain.

And with California and Maine following in the footsteps of Europe in protecting consumer data both agencies and brands are training their focus ever more on privacy. Even big tech has realised it needs to join the party.

We can see it most clearly in the way that Google and Apple are making moves to help consumers block third-party cookie targeting, while Mozilla is exploring a new subscription model that will enable users to browse privately.

The Rise of Contextual Advertising

As a result of the charge towards privacy, CMOs will need to seek out tech innovations which can deliver quality content to consumers without the use of third-party data.

Something that’s being looked at afresh is contextual advertising, where relevant ad experiences are delivered in real time alongside content that people are reading.

This offers many advantages to brands, publishers and of course to consumers. Key in the post-GDPR era is the fact that because it’s contextual, no user data is processed.

Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing

People hate ads that are intrusive, annoying or disruptive and this is why ad blocking rates have risen. However, developments in artificial intelligence will help solve these headaches.

Machine learning and natural language processing will rise to the fore as brands work out new ways to target consumers with the right content at the right time.

These advancements move far beyond simple keyword usage to ensure even premium media placements are truly contextually matched, so no more Apple ads being served next to pieces about growing fruit.

Regaining trust

The advertising sector is facing a number of huge challenges including transparency, brand safety, viewability, ad fraud and fake news. Number one, however, is consumer trust.

Indeed, research released by the Advertising Association, ISBA and Credos revealed that consumer trust in advertising had hit a record low in 2019 with the industry suffering from a reputation of being repetitive, obtrusive and unscrupulous.

By refining the context of marketing campaigns, you can ensure that each potential customer is targeted properly.

By delivering messaging and insights in context, the brand becomes more helpful to the target audience. This in turn drives engagement.

And if they know their data – I’m talking about race, sexuality, and political opinions – is not being shared with thousands of companies around the world in order to target them, then we have a golden opportunity to regain their trust.

We need to confront issues of data, trust and privacy head on and ensure we have a model that is fit for purpose. If we don’t then the future viability of our industry will be at stake.

Mark Bembridge is founder and CEO of Smartology, an AI tech firm which provides privacy-focused advertising solutions.


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