IAB Europe Calls on Parliamentarians to Reject ‘Misleading’ Report on Data-Driven Ads

Brussels, 14 October 2021 – IAB Europe is dismayed by a new campaign and report, launched by the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament, that paint huge swathes of the internet economy as ‘manipulation’, and call for an outright ban on the use of personal data in advertising that would spell disaster for European media, start-ups and small businesses.

The campaign presents a misleading view that data-driven advertising, and personalised advertising in particular, is uniquely harmful and escapes user control.

It draws on a report that proposes to unequivocally outlaw the business practice, completely disregarding the full applicability of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to any business activity underpinned by personal data. 

The paper blatantly ignores a universally accepted all-encompassing definition of ‘personal data’ under the GDPR, disingenuously putting forward a variation of ‘contextual advertising’ as a panacea to all challenges on the web, and as an alternative to data-driven advertising. But contextual ads still require the processing of ‘personal data’ to deliver and measure the effectiveness of ad campaigns, and even the most informed account would admit they can only ever be one part of the mix for online publishers and advertisers. 

The authors of the study claim that there exist ‘many opportunities for publishers and advertisers to survive, and even flourish, in a post personal data advertising world, despite having to navigate a complex transition’

Yet those very same businesses – thousands of European digital media publishers, content creators, communications agencies, technology providers, eCommerce businesses, entrepreneurs, and software developers – have already firmly and collectively opposed a ban on targeted advertising, instead calling on the EU to simply recognise and enforce its already extensive legal framework for privacy and data protection. 

At a time when EU legislators are negotiating in good faith to try to secure a compromise on the crucial Digital Services Act (DSA) package, this campaign can only be viewed as misleading and, indeed, manipulative. IAB Europe welcomes the prospect of the DSA boosting clarity and transparency around digital advertising, but we must remember just what it is that this legislation is scoped to do, and what impact assessments have been undertaken. At this late stage, introducing an untested and uncosted ban on one of the fundamental drivers of an open and innovative internet is a major distraction from the task at hand and would have simply immense unintended consequences for Europe’s free press, its small business ecosystem and its international reputation.

We call on all reasonable voices to reject this proposal and instead use the tools of enforcement already enshrined in the GDPR. 

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