U.K. Privacy Watchdog Faces Legal Action Over AdTech GDPR Complaint

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is facing legal action over its alleged failure to stop unlawful practices by the Digital Advertising Technology (AdTech) industry.

The challenge has been brought by privacy campaigners at the Open Rights Group (ORG), which said on Thursday that it is taking the ICO to court after it took the decision to quietly close a complaint against the AdTech industry and its handling of personal data.

The original complaint, which challenged the industry’s compliance with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), was filed in September 2018 by Jim Killock, executive director of ORG, and Michael Veale, a lecturer in digital rights at the University College London.

The complaint centred around real-time bidding (RTB), and argued that the real-time bidding systems designed by Google and the IAB “broadcast what virtually all internet users read, watch, and listen to online to thousands of companies, without protection of the data once broadcast.”

The ICO’s investigation concluded in June 2019 and found the AdTech industry to be in breach of the GDPR with widespread and systemic problems with industry practices such as collecting and sharing people’s browsing history without any control over who ends up accessing such personal information.

However, despite founding unlawful practices, the ICO decided to close the investigation in September 2020 without taking any action.

An ICO spokesperson said the regulator wants to avoid “undue pressure on any industry” during COVID-19, but added, “concerns about adtech remain and we aim to restart our work in the coming months.”

In light of this, the ORG, along with Veale, are taking the regulator to court over its “refusal to take substantive action against what their own investigation concluded were very serious and extensive unlawful practices.”

Jim Killock, executive director of the ORG, said: “The AdTech industry has driven a coach and horses through the GDPR and the ICO’s own investigation has highlighted widespread systemic abuses in the AdTech industry practices. But instead of taking action against, it has decided to close the investigation. We are determined to ensure that the law is enforced even when the regulator can’t be bothered to protect our rights and liberties.”

The ICO said in a statement: “We are aware of this matter, which will be decided by the Tribunal in due course. Consideration of concerns we have received forms part of our work on real time bidding and the Adtech industry.”

The legal challenge to the U.K.’s privacy agency is likely to be resolved sometime next year, Politico reports, and could force the agency to reopen the now-closed complaint.

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