EDAA releases its 2015 Activity Report

July 20th, 2016

Working to deliver user-centric transparency and control in digital advertising

According to IBM we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, with 90% of it being created in the last two years. This eye-popping statistic is pretty much meaningless to most of us: we tend to take it all for granted as we go about our everyday lives. And with the amount of connected ‘things’ in use in 2016 expected to be 6.5bn worldwide, this is only going to get even more complicated. So how do we achieve meaningful user transparency in a ‘big data’ world? What is the most effective way for organisations to do this? How do we connect legal obligations with a user-centric approach? What is the digital advertising sector – significant users of data – doing to try to achieve this?

The Digital Advertising Approach

In 2011 the EU digital advertising sector launched an industry-wide initiative aimed at providing greater transparency and control in interest-based or behavioural advertising – a way of making adverts more relevant to people’s preferences and interests based upon their previous browsing activity. At the heart of the initiative is a small symbol or icon in ads that – when clicked on – provides more information about the collection and use of information for this purpose, as well as links to ways for users to manage their advertising preferences, including a centralised ‘switch off’ mechanism. In a nutshell, the initiative aims to take the ‘notice’ out of a privacy policy and place it somewhere more contextually useful for the user, as well as providing easy-access to ways people can have some control over their advertising data.

Over 160 businesses – large and small – across Europe have invested significantly in this approach. And not just in Europe, but in the US, Canada and Australia. It is a global approach aimed at providing a consistent experience for users. In Europe the initiative has progressed from a start-up system – debated and discussed at many Brussels roundtables with the European Commission – to a more established one with broad industry support and engagement, including from organisations that have been involved in advertising self-regulation since the 1950s. The initiative is backed up with a ‘tried and tested’ complaints handling process, and compliance is also independently verified by a third party auditor. Those complying receive a trust seal to show to users and to advertising partners.

Ongoing Progress…

The initiative continues to make progress despite having taken its fair share of criticism along the way – often based on a misunderstanding of the technology or what the initiative actually seeks to achieve. Over the last 18 months there have been some significant highlights 2015 Activity Report:
• In 2015, over 229bn icons were delivered in ads across Europe, through a combination of the approved icon providers, Ghostery and TRUSTe. The pan-European industry opt out platform – www.youronlinechoices.eu – (available in 27 different languages and providing citizens with lots of information, not just a centralised opt out) had an average of 2.7m visitors a month.
• Between 2013 and 2015, specific advertising campaigns have run across 11 different European markets seeking to boost awareness of the icon and its links to advertising controls amongst citizens. In 2015 specifically, campaigns have run in Bulgaria, Hungary and Spain, as well as second campaigns running in Germany and Portugal.
Consumer research across 13 European countries between October and November 2015 found that awareness of the icon is rising. For example: in Great Britain awareness has risen steadily over the last four years from 13% in 2012 to 28% in late 2015. Across the countries surveyed, 44% say they are more favourable towards the concept of interest-based or behavioural advertising when presented with information provided by clicking on the icon and having the opportunity to manage their advertising preferences.
• The inaugural EDAA (the body administering the EU initiative) summit took place in Brussels on 1 March 2016 (rescheduled from December 2015 due to security issues in the city at the time) with a wide range of speakers including from the European Commission. Video highlights and presentations are available here.
• The initiative has been adapted to the mobile environment, reflecting the shift of digital advertising to mobile devices, to ensure that people across Europe can benefit from greater transparency and control when on the move. It is likely that this will come into force in the early part of 2017.

…despite Regulatory and Political Uncertainty

The EU initiative has developed in an uncertain regulatory and political climate. Many businesses and markets have progressed regardless of this uncertainty. Soon it will interact with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), due to apply across EU markets from 25 May 2018. Transparency and control lie at the heart of EU data protection law – now and in the future – and so the evolving initiative will have an important role in achieving this in a practical, innovative and user-centric way. The initiative is at a pivotal point of its development and now is the opportunity to take the next step. That will mean businesses, industry and all European advertising markets – big or small – having to step up as they prepare for the GDPR to truly bake-in privacy by design approaches into their business models. By doing so they will deliver not just legal compliance but an even more meaningful way to deliver transparency and control in digital advertising for people across Europe.

LEANing in

Digital advertising has always been of the forefront of new technology, approaches and business models, creating a competitive environment to make advertising more effective, efficient and relevant. It helps to fund the digital world, making content, services and applications available to the many at little or no cost. It will also always be at the forefront of the privacy debate. Continued success is based upon user trust and engagement. The rise in ad blocking shows there is some way to go. However, transparency about the information that is collected and used, as well as providing user control, is central to the ad industry’s approach (via the LEAN initiative) to delivering a better experience based upon trust and engagement. Put simply: it is at the heart of the sector’s future growth, development and success.

Author: Nick Stringer, EDAA Chair

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