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European telcos prep advertising JV

Some of the biggest operators in Europe are getting together to offer ad-targeting tools to marketers.

Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, and Vodafone late last week submitted a filing (PDF) to the European Commission which outlines a proposal to create a new joint venture that “will offer a privacy-led, digital identification solution to support the digital marketing and advertising activities of brands and publishers.”

The telcos want to assign a tag to every subscriber on their network which can then be shared with advertisers, enabling them to track their app and browsing usage, and therefore deliver relevant ads without collecting any directly identifiable personal data. The service will be subject to explicit user consent provided directly to the brand or publisher that wants to get its hands on their data.

“Users will have access to a user-friendly privacy portal. They can review which brands and publishers they have given consent to, and withdraw their consent,” the telcos said.

The EU’s competition watchdog is currently reviewing the submission, and has set a provisional decision deadline of February 10th.

If these telcos are given the go-ahead, their joint venture could be well-positioned to capitalise on the shifting dynamics of the online ad market.

It’s a turbulent time for advertisers, with data privacy and protection under the spotlight like never before.

Take the humble cookie, for example, which for years has enabled marketers to keep tabs on what users are doing online and use that information as a basis for serving relevant ads. But the tide has turned, with Apple and Mozilla having already limited the efficacy of cookies to track users across multiple Websites on Safari and Firefox respectively. Meanwhile Google planned to end support for third-party cookies for its Chrome browser in 2022, but delayed it until this year.

Apple in particular has positioned itself as the champion of user privacy – and Facebook parent Meta’s nemesis – with App Tracking Transparency. The feature gives iOS users the ability to prevent apps from tracking their activity on other apps, including browsers.

Regulators are also digging into how online giants use personal information. Just last week, Meta was fined €390 million by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) after the EU Data Protection Board (EDPB) in December dismissed Meta’s argument that Facebook and Instagram users agree to receive targeted ads based on their personal data when they sign up to use the services. The decision could force Meta to give users a choice of whether to opt-in to targeted ads.

Also last week, France’s data protection regulator, CNIL, revealed it fined Apple €8 million late last year for not obtaining users’ consent before tracking their App Store activity, which was subsequently used to serve personalised ads.

There are also companies out there trying to put users firmly in control over which companies have access to their data. One such company, Inrupt, was co-founded by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, and was featured last week by CNN. Inrupt offers a cloud-based solution that enables enterprises to securely host customer data in a single location that gives customers access to, and control over, the use of that data. The idea is to create mutual trust between consumers and the companies to which they surrender their personal information.

Between scrupulous regulators and changes to how apps and browsers work, ad-funded companies are finding it harder to collate the data they need to render an accurate profile of a user that can be packaged up and sold to brands.

But it has also created an opportunity for new solutions, which is where the likes of Inrupt and this new telco JV could come in. However, they will need to tread extremely carefully to ensure they stay on the right side of the law, and avoid the wrath of privacy advocates.

 

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