Adtech and the challenges it poses for data processing

Many people unfamiliar with the concepts of adtech, or programmatic advertising, will nevertheless experience it online firsthand daily. 


Adtech is a collective term. It refers to digital tools that deliver targeted advertising to consumers by making a record of items that we view online, or in some cases even items that we just absentmindedly linger on, building a consumer profile for us and then sharing that data with purchasers of online advertising space. The next time you look at your social media newsfeed and question how an item that you just happened to glance at on a retail site recently keeps popping up in adverts, the answer is adtech. 


This has created a revolution in advertising and it is as notably effective as it is extremely complex. Research by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) shows that most consumers accept seeing adverts as the price of accessing free websites, and adtech providers prove again and again how successful their tools are.


However, adtech has a big problem in the shape of GDPR since it works by gathering data and sharing it but in a way that is much too complex to explain easily to the average person. So the question arises is to what extent can that person give informed consent? 


Recently the ICO hosted an Adtech Fact-finding Forum for key players in the industry, and the French data protection authority has also fired a warning shot at adtech provider Vectuary. These are likely to be only the first of many steps towards regulatory vigilance and, as the issue’s profile is raised, challenges are inevitable.


For now there is merely an acceptance that this is remarkably effective marketing technology that needs improvement to reach what most would consider an acceptable standard under the terms of GDPR.