4 min read

Last year, a GDPR complaint was filed against Google and other ad auction companies regarding data breach. The complaint alleged that tech companies broadcasted people’s personal data to dozens of companies, without proper security through a mechanism of “behavioural ads”. The complaint was filed by a host of privacy activists and pro-privacy browser firm Brave.

This year in January, new evidences emerged indicating the broadcasted data includes information about people’s ethnicity, disabilities, sexual orientation and more. This sensitive information allows advertisers to specifically target incest, abuse victims, or those with eating disorders. This complaint was filed by an anti-surveillance NGO, the Panoptykon Foundation. The initial complaints were filed in Ireland, the UK, and Poland.

Now, yesterday, a new GDPR complaint about Real-Time Bidding (RTB) in the online advertising industry was filed with Data Protection Authorities in Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. In total seven EU countries have raised the GDPR issue, this week when it marked completion of one year since Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force.

The complaints were lodged by Gemma Galdon Clavell , Diego Fanjul , David Korteweg , Jef Ausloos , Pierre Dewitte , and Jose Belo . The complaints suggest Google and other major companies have leaked vast scale of personal data to the “Ad Tech” industry.

How RTB system is used for data breach

According to the complaint, Google’s DoubleClick recently renamed “Authorized Buyers”, has 8.4 million websites and uses it to broadcasts personal data about visitors to over 2,000 companies. Google is using Real-Time Bidding (RTB) system for it. This means every time a person visits Google web page, intimate personal data about the users and what they are viewing is broadcasted in a “bid request”. These requests are then sent to hundreds of other companies to solicit bids from potential advertisers’ for the opportunity to show an ad to a specific visitor. This data includes people’s exact locations, inferred religious, sexual, political characteristics. The data also includes what users are reading, watching, and listening to online, and a unique code which details to  ‘Expression of Interest’ section on a website.

The next biggest ad exchange is AppNexus, owned by AT&T, which conducts 131 billion personal data broadcasts every day.

Once the data is broadcasted, there is no control as to what happens to the data thereafter. Google has a self-regulatory guideline for companies that rely on its broadcast, according to which, companies should inform them if they are breaking any rules. Google has assured that over 2,000 companies are “certified” in this way. However, Google DoubleClick/Authorized Buyers sends intimate personal information about virtually every single online person to these companies, billions of times a day. This is one of the massive leakage of personal data recorded so far as this occurs hundreds of billions of times every day.

In a statement to Fix AdTech, CEO of Eticas, Gemma Galdon Cavell has said, “We hope that this complaint sends a strong message to Google and those using Ad Tech solutions in their websites and products. Data protection is a legal requirement must be translated into practices and technical specifications

Google will be fined heavy for not complying to GDPR

Under the GDPR, a company is not permitted to use personal data unless it tightly controls what happens to that data. Article 5 (1)(f) requires that personal data be “processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data, including protection against unauthorized or unlawful processing and against accidental loss.”

The largest GDPR fine ever, is issued to Google amounting to 50M euros. In January, a French data protection watchdog, CNIL alleged that the search engine giant was breaking GDPR rules around transparency. It also reported that Google did not have valid legal base, when processing people’s data for advertising purposes. Meanwhile, Google is still appealing to the fine.

Many users on Hacker News are having varied opinions regarding the need for regulation and also about the credibility of GDPR.

A user states, “To be clear, I think some privacy regulation is necessary, but there seems to be some kind of dissonance. People want a service, but are unwilling to pay for it nor give their data. Then they complain to the government that they should be able to get the service without payment anyway.”

Another user added, “From a user perspective, GDPR has no impact so far. I am still being tracked to death wherever I go. Neither do companies offer me a way to get the data they have about me.”

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