Court To Examine Online Ad Privacy

John Lister's picture

One of the key ways online advertising works has led to a court case alleging a breach of Internet users' privacy. A civil liberties group is taking legal action saying current regulations are too slow to have any effect.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) says IAB Tech Lab, which operates one of the world's main ad set-ups, is sharing revealing data about online activities without user consent. IAB is based in New York, though the legal case is against its branch in Hamburg, Germany to benefit from tighter rules in Europe. (Source:

Real Time Bidding Relies On Data

The case centers on real-time bidding. That's the system that powers most dynamic advertising where a web page displays an ad specifically chosen for the person viewing the page. It's considered better targeted and more powerful than the older online ad formats that show the same ad to everyone, using only information about the site and specific page to decide what would be relevant.

Real-time bidding is effectively an incredibly fast automated auction between large numbers of potential advertisers, usually using an intermediary such as Google. The bids are usually determined by comparing who the advertisers want to reach with data about both the page and the specific person viewing it.

The latter information is usually gathered from tracking cookies that build-up a picture of people's online activity and try to piece together their interests. For example, a golf club manufacturer bidding on a golf news website would probably bid more if the visitor had previously searched for information about course opening times, suggesting they are a player rather than just a fan.

Regulators Slow To Respond

While the process is no secret and IAB Tech Lab even publishes lists of the categories of information it uses to build up a picture, the ICCL says web users haven't given specific and active consent for it to be gathered and shared in this way. (Source:

The ICCL has previously complained to regulators of a breach of European privacy laws but says it's been waiting three years for a response. It's now filing a lawsuit to take direct action.

IAB says it hasn't yet received the paperwork from the lawsuit and will respond when it does.

What's Your Opinion?

How much do you know about the way the ads you see are selected? Do you feel you have enough control over how your data is shared with advertisers (and potential advertisers)? Is data sharing a price worth paying to get free access to ad-funded sites?

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buzzallnight's picture

Do not use your real name
Do not give out your real address

Do not ever buy anything from an ad or a telephone call!!!!!!!!!

Problem solved!