Adtech firms have come under fire for “having their heads in the sand” with regards to data privacy and for failing to appreciate context when it comes to brand safety.

A recent report by a report by the Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore, commissioned by cybersecurity firm CHEQ, highlighted how the use of keyword blacklists is a blunt instrument when it comes to deciding what online content to permit ads to be shown against.

An inability to understand the context in which a word or phrase appears leads to “overblocking” which cost newspaper and magazine publishers in the UK, US, Japan and Australia an estimated $3.2bn (£2.46bn) in lost digital revenue in 2019.

“An unintended consequence is that perversely some of the best and most trusted content is being blocked inadvertently,” James Wildman, chief executive of Hearst UK, told the Guardian.

“If we write about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex [Harry and Meghan], chances are most software would see the word ‘sex’ and assume it is inappropriate content to appear alongside and block it.”

Jonathan Marciano, director of communications at CHEQ, reported earlier this month that two-thirds (66%) of the most shared online news articles about the final season of Game of Thrones “were entirely unable to be turned into advertising dollars due to the presence of supposedly brand ‘unsafe’ keywords littering these articles” – words like death, shot, kill and bastards.

Elsewhere, the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK reported that while progress has been made in addressing how adtech firms treat consumer data in the world of real-time bidding , “some [organisations] appear to have their heads firmly in the sand”.

In a blog, Simon McDougall, Executive Director for Technology and Innovation at the ICO, said that the justifications offered by these organisations for the use of ‘legitimate interests’ as the lawful basis for the processing of personal data in RTB were inadequate, while Data Protection Impact Assessments have lacked appropriate detail.

“We have also seen examples of basic data protection controls around security, data retention and data sharing being insufficient,” he added

TechCrunch took the ICO to task, however, for failing to take enforcement measures: “despite fresh admissions of adtech’s lawfulness problem the regulator is choosing more stale inaction,” it said. 

Sourced from Guardian, MarTech Advisor, ICO, TechCrunch; additional content by WARC staff