Google and publishers edge closer to reaching common ground for GDPR standards

Google and publishers have made progress on discussions around some of the blockages to the adoption of the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation framework, sources close to the situation have claimed.

Major publishers from the U.K. and Germany, agency groups, Google and other ad tech vendors met in London this week to discuss and agree on a compromise on what purposes data processors can use publisher user information for when it comes to serving personalized ads. Purposes range from ad measurement and delivery to data storage and use for creation of profiles — all information typically gathered by publishers and passed to programmatic ad partners to serve personalized ads.

The meeting was the culmination of some 18 conference calls and one previous in-person meeting with the IAB Transparency and Consent framework Purposes Committee working group. Throughout the discussions, Google and other ad tech vendors argued that there should be less granularity and one purpose for methods that are intertwined. For example, ad delivery and measurement aren’t typically used in isolation; therefore, they should come under one purpose definition. In Google’s case, separating out purposes for uses that are intrinsically related would lead to confusing messaging to users when it comes to asking for consent.

Meanwhile, publishers have long been pushing for more granularity and control over how any partner in their digital ad supply chain can use data coming from their site. Publishers represented in the group have continued to push their case for this since the first iteration of the framework was released in 2017, and in which publishers felt woefully unrepresented. Various scenarios were debated with small numbers of purposes and larger numbers of purposes. Multiple sources who attended the meeting said that Google and other ad tech vendors represented agreed to compromise more on the publishers’ terms for more granularity.

“Google used to be absent or very disengaged,” said an industry executive who attended the meeting. “Now they are one of the most active participants.”

The IAB Europe hasn’t officially released details of what was agreed, although 12 purposes have been agreed, and a feature added to specifically address how location data can be used, according to sources that attended. The discussion around how to treat location data had been part of the weekly conference calls the purposes steering committee have had. However, the need to reach an understanding on it was underlined by the recent ruling from the French data protection authority CNIL, which caused unease among ad tech vendors and publishers when it ruled that mobile location tech vendor Vectaury had flouted GDPR and gave the company a three-month deadline to expunge its data and get its house in order.

Those who attended have agreed on the number of purposes, and what data processing operations can be done under each purpose if user consent has been given. The next stage will be to jointly agree on the language used to convey it all to publisher audiences. This is just the first step however; the terms will then need to be ratified by the Purposes Steering Committee, which comprises many of the same companies that have attended the working groups, according to sources close to the situation.

Around 35 people representing 20 companies attended the meeting, which stretched over one and a half days. Two agency groups were in attendance; the rest of attendees were a roughly equal split among ad tech vendors and publishers, according to sources who attended the meeting.

“The fact there are so many publishers in the room is a development,” said a publishing executive who requested anonymity. “This time last year, the IAB unveiled a solution without much publisher engagement, despite publishers being anchor tenants in the matter of user consent.”

The meetings have become somewhat of a trust exercise between those representing different parts of the ecosystem, according to some that attended. Google’s go-it-alone approach back in May angered publishers at the time, as did the initial iteration of the IAB framework which they claimed was entirely based on protecting ad tech vendors, to the detriment of publishers. At the time of earlier discussions, some publishers believed that if Google had to adhere to a larger number of purposes, it would make it difficult to still bundle some of its services. Google has maintained that its motive is purely fixed on ensuring the user experience doesn’t become unwieldy and confusing.

The more skeptical publishers won’t count their chickens until Google’s commitment to the terms around purposes has been formalized, and its public announcement of its completed integration with the IAB framework, according to a publishing executive.

Although Google’s initial deadline for joining the IAB framework has slipped, the company has reinforced that its integration will begin as soon as the current barriers are overcome. These barriers include the agreed definition of purposes, and technical specifications regarding how legitimate interest will be integrated into the framework, according to industry sources. The IAB framework’s technical specifications for a mobile app are also not finalized.

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