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.


Saudi energy giant to invest $3bn in Bangladesh’s power sector

Updated 22 October 2019

Saudi energy giant to invest $3bn in Bangladesh’s power sector

  • Experts say deal will usher in more economic and development opportunities for the country

DHAKA: Saudi Arabia’s energy giant, ACWA power, will set up an LNG-based 3,600 MW plant in Bangladesh after an agreement was signed in Dhaka on Thursday.

The MoU was signed by ACWA Chairman Mohammed Abunayyan and officials from the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB), officials told Arab News on Monday.

According to the agreement, ACWA will invest $3 billion in Bangladesh’s energy development sector, of which $2.5 billion will be used to build the power plant while the rest will be spent on an LNG terminal to facilitate fuel supply to the plant. Under the deal, ACWA will also set up a 2 MW solar power plant.

In recent months, both countries have engaged in a series of discussions for investment opportunities in Bangladesh’s industry and energy sectors. 

During the Saudi-Bangladesh investment cooperation meeting in March this year, Dhaka proposed a $35 billion investment plan to a high-powered Saudi delegation led by Majed bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, the Saudi commerce and investment minister, and Mohammed bin Mezyed Al-Tuwaijri, the Saudi economy and planning minister.

However, officials in Dhaka said that this was the first investment deal to be signed between the two countries.

“We have just inked the MoU for building the LNG-based power plant. Now, ACWA will conduct a feasibility study regarding the location of the plant, which is expected to be completed in the next six months,” Khaled Mahmood, chairman of BPDB, told Arab News.

He added that there are several locations in Moheshkhali, Chottogram and the Mongla port area for the proposed power plant.

“We need to find a suitable location where the drift of the river will be suitable for establishing the LNG plant and we need to also consider the suitability of establishing the transmission lines,” Mahmood said.

“It will be either a JV (Joint Venture) or an IPP (Independent Power Producer) mode of investment, which is yet to be determined. But, we are expecting that in next year the investment will start coming here,” Mahmood said.

BPDB expects to complete the set-up process of the power plant within 36 to 42 months.

“We are in close contact with ACWA and focusing on the successful completion of the project within the shortest possible time,” he said.

Abunayyan said that he was optimistic about the new investment deal.

“Bangladesh has been a model for the Muslim world in economic progress. This is our beginning, and our journey and our relationship will last for a long time,” Abunayyan told a gathering after the MoU signing ceremony.

Economists and experts in Bangladesh also welcomed the ACWA investment in the energy development sector.

“This sort of huge and long-term capital investment will create a lot of employment opportunities. On the other hand, it will facilitate other trade negotiations with the Middle Eastern countries, too,” Dr. Nazneen Ahmed, senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), told Arab News.

She added that Bangladesh needs to weigh the pros and cons before finalizing such contracts so that the country can earn the “maximum benefits” from the investment.

“It will also expedite other big investments in Bangladesh from different countries,” she said.

Another energy economist, Dr. Asadujjaman, said that Bangladesh needs to exercise caution while conducting the feasibility study for such a huge investment.

“We need to address the environmental aspects, opportunity costs and other economic perspectives while working with this type of big investment. Considering the present situation, the country also needs to focus on producing more solar energy,” Dr. Asadujjaman told Arab News.