European Data Protection Day: Advertising and the right to privacy in the digital space

For 18 years now, the European Data Protection Day on January 28 has focused on the central role of data protection within the EU. The day is intended to raise awareness among people living in the EU about what happens to their personal data and, above all, what rights they have with regard to its collection and processing. In doing so, the EU is signaling the great importance it attaches to the protection of personal data as a fundamental right. After all, the New York Times once dubbed the EU the "world's leading tech watchdog" when it comes to data protection. But what does the protection of personal data mean for the advertising industry?

Advertising should be impactful. However, in order to achieve a good advertising impact and avoid reaching the wrong audience, such data has long played an important role in online advertising. The collection of third-party cookies, for example, created the basis for precisely addressing the desired target group using interest targeting. In other words, this data made it possible to track people's user behavior online and create user and interest profiles based on this, which were used to address target groups.  

For a long time, these tracking processes ran in the background without the users' knowledge or consent. Before the age of data tracking, advertising was a system in which there was mutual give and take between people, media and advertisers. In the digital space, this ecosystem has been plundered by hundreds of companies, to the detriment of media and people. A mutual give and take has increasingly become an almost endless taking on the part of these companies.

The End of an Era

But with the growing awareness of data protection and the taking effect of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a stop has been put to this. Since then, website operators have been obliged to inform users about the use of third-party cookies and to obtain their consent to tracking. If users do not give this consent, i.e. if they are not willing to "accept all cookies", they may not be tracked for advertising purposes. The omnipresence of these consent or cookie banners further increased users' awareness of how intensively their behavior is tracked online. This resulted in a growing number of people who have become invisible to the industry's conventional tracking and targeting methods.

In recent years, this has been compounded by the extinction of third-party cookies on the part of browser operators, whose imminent burial has now been finally sealed by Google. Almost four years after Apple and Mozilla blocked third-party cookies in their Safari and Firefox browsers, Google is now following suit. By the end of the year, the top dog will automatically block third-party cookies in its Chrome browser. These developments represent a major challenge for an industry that for decades has taken user data for granted.

What's next?

New, cookieless alternatives are now urgently needed. Most of the alternatives discussed so far are characterized by one thing in particular. They are looking for ways to replace cookie technology with other tracking methods. These include, for example, universal IDs, first party data or Google's new privacy sandbox. It is clear that these new solutions are still aimed at measuring and categorizing user behaviour and people's interests. The only promise: Data protection and the degree of anonymization would be significantly higher. However, nobody really wants to do without the collection of this data.

Users' wishes to protect their privacy on the internet will remain. And this protection is also their right, as the EU emphasizes, not least on days like these. The advertising industry should therefore set itself the task of developing targeting alternatives that enable accurate targeting and high advertising impact without collecting user data.  Our Choice-Driven Advertising (CDA) approach focuses on user self-determination. Users decide for themselves which video they want to watch from a selection of commercials from different advertisers. This choice creates organic interest targeting without collecting and analyzing user data.

Our annual advertising effectiveness studies show that this approach not only ensures a very high level of data protection and privacy for consumers, but also guarantees advertisers a high level of advertising effectiveness. Data protection does not rule out successful advertising. On the contrary, the results of the studies show that self-determination in advertising consumption actually has a positive influence on advertising impact.