Websites and online advertisers test limits of European privacy law

Some major websites continue to deliver targeted advertisements to users in Europe who have not given consent for their personal information to be used, according to advertising industry sources. (AFP)
Updated 02 July 2018

Websites and online advertisers test limits of European privacy law

  • Some major websites continue to deliver targeted advertisements to users in Europe who have not given consent for their personal information to be used
  • Companies risk fines of as much as 4 percent of their revenue for General Data Protection Regulation violations

SAN FRANCISCO: Businesses engaged in online advertising are taking divergent approaches to a new European data protection law, with some shutting services to ensure compliance while others test the limits of what regulators will allow, a Reuters review shows.
Some major websites continue to deliver targeted advertisements to users in Europe who have not given consent for their personal information to be used, according to advertising industry sources, owners of major websites and a Reuters review of about 10 websites.
Such consent is a central element of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but some websites and advertising software vendors contend that consent can be bypassed legally – and with the law only a month old, regulators have yet to weigh in.
Gabriel Voisin, a London-based attorney following GDPR at international law firm Bird & Bird, said that limited enforcement of consent requirements is enabling companies to push the line.
“Saying 100 percent of ad inventory is properly obtained at the moment is a massive overstatement,” he said, referring to advertising space for sale.
Somewhere between 10 percent and 30 percent of European consumers are refusing to consent to personalized ads when given the choice, four advertising industry executives told Reuters, citing their companies’ internal data.
The stakes are high in Europe’s $22 billion online display advertising market because websites and apps can charge advertisers as much as 10 times more when ads can be targeted using factors such as an individual’s browsing history or precise location.
Companies risk fines of as much as 4 percent of their revenue for GDPR violations.
German media company Axel Springer has not sought user consent for targeted ads on properties such as news website Bild, citing an exception in the law for when a company has a “legitimate” business interest.
Regulators have said fraud prevention or marketing can fit the definition, provided that any privacy effect on consumers is limited, reasonably expected and likely to be accepted.
“Axel Springer takes the view that the use of certain tracking technologies in Germany continues to be allowed without prior consent – as long as users can opt out and provided there is a legitimate interest,” an Axel Springer spokesman said.
Newspapers owned by Britain’s Reach, including the Ealing Gazette and Grimsby Telegraph, loaded personalized ads before seeking users’ consent, according to a Reuters review on June 28.
Meanwhile, Alphabet Inc’s Google, the software of which is widely used by websites and apps to deliver advertisements, has advised clients that the practice may be legally problematic.
Reach did not respond to a request to comment.
North America’s National Hockey League website, NHL.com, maintained targeted ads in Europe without prominent disclosure about data use, according to a Reuters review on June 28. The league did not respond to a request to comment.
A spokesman for the British Information Commissioner’s Office told Reuters “that consent must be unambiguous, freely given, fully informed and involve a clear affirmative action in order to be valid under GDPR.”
Reuters’ findings are in line with broader assessments by consumer groups and other organizations.
More than a third of 75 major websites reviewed by media consultancy Oko Digital in early June “presented no notice” about personalized ads. Dutch consumer advocacy organization Consumentenbond, meanwhile, found that about half of 150 websites it reviewed started tracking users before establishing consent.
Kean Graham, whose company MonetizeMore manages ad sales for several websites that each generate 20 million monthly page views or more, said that clients’ revenue fell 67 percent on the week after GDPR came into force because he removed the facility for personalized ads on websites of clients who were unprepared to seek consent.
“We’ve taken it quite seriously,” he said of the new law.


Oil falls below $57 on virus impact and OPEC+ delay

Updated 19 February 2020

Oil falls below $57 on virus impact and OPEC+ delay

  • Contagion ‘is spooking market players,’ analysts say after Asian shares fall and Apple issues warning

LONDON: Oil fell below $57 a barrel on Tuesday, pressured by concerns over the impact on crude demand from the coronavirus outbreak in China and a lack of further action by OPEC and its allies to support the market.

Forecasters including the International Energy Agency (IEA) have cut 2020 oil demand estimates because of the virus. Though new cases in mainland China have dipped, global experts say it is too early to judge if the outbreak is being contained.

Brent crude was down 82 cents at $56.85 a barrel in mid-afternoon trade after rallying in the previous five sessions. US West Texas Intermediate crude fell 70 cents to $51.35.

“Risk aversion has returned to the markets,” said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

“OPEC+ has shown no sign yet of reacting to the virus-related slump in demand by making additional production cuts.”

The virus is having a wider impact on companies and financial markets. Asian shares fell and Wall Street was poised to retreat on Tuesday after Apple said it would miss quarterly revenue guidance owing to weakened demand in China.

“This has spooked market players and triggered a sharp pullback in risk assets,” said Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM.

The IEA last week said that first-quarter oil demand is likely to fall by 435,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the same period last year in the first quarterly decline since the financial crisis in 2009.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, including Russia, have been considering further production cuts to tighten supply and support prices.

The group, known as OPEC+, has a pact to cut oil output by 1.7 million bpd until the end of March.

The next OPEC+ meeting next month is set to consider an advisory panel’s recommendation to cut supply by a further 600,000 bpd. Talks on holding an earlier meeting in February appear to have made no progress, OPEC sources said.

As well as OPEC+ voluntary curbs, support for prices has come from involuntary losses in Libya, where output has collapsed since Jan. 18 because of a blockade of ports and oilfields.