A joint venture (JV) between four major European operators to build a cross-network advertising targeting infrastructure – which they say will rely on “affirmative” consent to target mobile and/or fixed network subscribers with “personalized” advertisements among participating brands/publishers’ sites — received the green light from the European Commission’s Antitrust Division in a decision announcement Friday.
The Commission concluded that the operation between the carriers to create a JV would not raise any competition concerns.
However, its press release is careful to note that approval of the competition does not mean that the project will go through with EU data protection regulators, writing: “During its investigation, the Commission has been in contact with the data protection authorities. The data protection rules are fully applicable, regardless of the merger authorization.
The plan will likely be watched closely from this side as the joint venture strives to launch a commercial advertising network targeting European eyeballs – since data protection regulators and privacy campaigners already raised concerns during a test phase last year.
Germany’s Deutsche Telekom, France’s Orange, Spain’s Telefonica and Britain’s Vodafone are the four riders involved in the bid to capitalize on high-level changes to the status quo of third-party tracking cookies to increase ad revenue by creating a first-party, data-driven, multi-carrier ad targeting infrastructure.
They said the proposed ad targeting will be based on the explicit consent of mobile and internet subscribers agreeing that their personal data may be used by a particular brand or advertiser to target them with marketing. Therefore, they say adtech infrastructure will be “privacy-focused” and will also focus on transparency for consumers in how brands communicate with them – in a bid to contrast their approach with the murky world of tracking. third-party cookies that has been integrated into the mainstream web (but is also now in a process of “evolving” into something the adtech giant, Google says, will also be”more private“).
Following the green light from the Commission on Friday, the quartet of telecom operators said in a statement that they would form a joint venture for “the implementation of a digital marketing-by-design technology platform in Europe that could benefit consumers, advertisers and publishers” – each taking a 25% stake in the JV company. The latter will be based in Belgium and run by “an independent management under the control of a supervisory board appointed by the shareholders”, they added.
Discuss cross-network ad targeting proposal with TechCrunch earlier this yearVodafone — who initiated the project and led the testing phase Last year — stated that it was intended that pseudonymised targeting tokens would be tied to a mobile user’s network subscription and shared with participating brands/publishers without revealing any directly identifiable personal data; and without the participating advertisers being able to synchronize or further enrich the data to flesh out more complete profiles.
He also clarified that tThe joint venture will apply contractual limits to advertisers (such as prohibiting the use of special category data for targeting); and conduct regular participant audits. While he said tThe system will be designed so that the tokens reset after a period of time to protect against reverse engineering (the initial proposal is for this period to be three months).
“Affirmative opt-in” user consent to tracking and targeting will be sought through pop-ups when mobile users browse the web, by Vodafone. He also told us in January that the plan was to the JV to retain the final say on the language used in these consent pop-ups – i.e. as another high-level control over participant behavior.
“The platform was designed from the ground up to comply with European data protection policy such as GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] and the ePrivacy Directive,” the four operators also said on Friday. “The partners have already launched a trial in Germany. Further trials are planned in France and Spain to further develop the platform and it is planned to make it available to any operator in Europe.
As telco subscribers look set to be bothered by a new wave of consent pop-ups, Vodafone previously told us that users will also be able to manage the consents they have given to brands/publishers through a central portal which will also contain an option for users to block the entire system.
While it remains to be seen whether finding and hitting a centralized “kill switch” will actually save carrier customers from being beset by even more pop-ups nagging them to turn it back on when browsing the internet via the connectivity that they’re already paying real money for.
The quality of the consent claimed and the broader questions of legal basis should deserve particular attention from EU data protection regulators – who have already passed years of fumbling a response to privacy incursions of tracking ads. (Which, in turn, led to complaints And disputes crowding. And, more recently, to regional legislators who have felt compelled to intervene to force reforms on these widespread violations of the law. Thus, the application gap has by no means been a vacuum.)
Europe’s telecoms plan to fill the opportunity void left by tracking cookies Finally reach the end of the road – at least as far as “official” support in Google’s Chrome browser is concerned (although it’s important to note that the ad tech giant is working on its own alternative targeting framework, aka its Privacy Sandbox plan) – is also likely to attract the attention of eagle-eyed privacy activists.
Such as nighta non-profit organization that has earned a reputation for turning modest resources into major privacy won in recent years and has makes tracking ads (and their cynically non-compliant “consent” pop-ups) a big priority intervention area in recent years — putting pressure on some of the most egregious episodes of adtech data theft and dark schemes.
Any new wave of telecom carrier-powered pop-ups would – therefore – be an inescapable target for further legal complaints. (A noyb spokeswoman told us she was reviewing the JV project and hadn’t made a decision yet on what actions she might take.)
As of now, there is no launch schedule attached to the telco’s “Europe Digital Advertising Technology Solution” as they charge for the tracking ads redux plan.
On Friday, all they said about it was that the joint venture “will outline its vision and strategy in due course, including its plans to commercially adopt the trial technology.”
It is possible that more public discussions will emerge at the upcoming GSMA Mobile World Congress (MWC) conference, which begins later this month in Barcelona, where representatives of the four telecom operators are due to speak in several speeches and round tables. Although they could also opt for a quieter route – via in-person networking and closed-door meetings – to pursue their goal of expanding participation to carriers across Europe.
Offering insight into how the four founding telcos could showcase adtech infrastructure to their regional peers, in their statement on Friday, they wrote, “Trial platform requires affirmative consumer consent. to enable brand communications via publishers. The only data shared is a pseudo-anonymous digital token that cannot be reverse engineered. Consumers are free to accept or deny their consent with a single click, as well as revoke any other consent given either on the brand or publisher’s website or through a dedicated and easily accessible privacy portal.
In a tacit jab at US ad tech giants like Google, they added: “The platform is specifically designed to offer consumers a step change in control, transparency and protection of their data, which is currently collected , distributed and stored on a large scale by the big, non-European players.