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Intelligence Briefs

UK watchdog: Real-time bidding a world of 'perverse, intrusive incentives'

Paul McIntyre
Executive Editor

12 August 2019 2min read

Nearly a year into the role, the head of tech and innovation at the Information Commissioner's Office, Simon McDougall says he is "kept up at night" by what he's finding in his investigation into how programmatic ads are bought in real-time (Campaign).  


Key points

  • Adtech companies may be purposely gaming the programmatic ad market in order to collect data about internet users
  • McDougall says real-time bidding has evolved into a world of "perverse incentives" in which being "intrusive" is rewarded by higher ad prices
  • "We've had anecdotal evidence that at times some firms are trying to exploit the Open RTB system to start to build their own databases by delivering low bidding for advertisers," says the data protection watchdog chief. "It's very hard for anybody involved in this world to know exactly who they share data with."
  •  McDougall admits his team were "surprised" at how ignorant the adtech industry was about how real-time bidding works
  • "One thing that has come through to us is that the vast majority, and pretty much every publisher and advertiser, don't like how the current system works."
  • The ICO in June warned adtech companies they had six months to start taking action over the way people's data is used in real-time bidding. 


My Takeout

There's nothing pretty for the adtech industry coming out of the UK data watchdog's investigation into real-time bidding. This piece in Campaign should only serve to signal the seriousness of a coming clampdown. And while the adtech sector will feel pressure, advertisers and media buyers need to realise it is their money - and decisions - which are fuelling the very practices that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has grave concerns about. Heads in the sand won't work on this one.    
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