February 22, 2023
In a filing submitted to the competition division of the European Commission, Germany’s Deutsche Telekom, France’s Orange, Spain’s Telefónica, and the UK’s Vodafone have proposed to create a joint venture to offer opt-in “personalized” ad targeting to regional mobile network users. The proposed joint venture will be jointly owned and controlled by the parties to offer “a privacy-led, digital identification solution to support the digital marketing and advertising activities of brands and publishers.”
The European Commission’s antitrust division has recently signed off on the proposal. Nevertheless, their press release was careful to note that the competition division’s green light does not mean that the project will pass through European Union (EU) data protection regulators. The project is also being closely watched by local regulators of each member state (especially by Germany and Spain) as privacy watch groups raised concerns regarding the legal basis for processing mobile users’ data for ads.
These apprehensions are largely focused on the EU’s comprehensive data protection and privacy laws on existing microtargeting ad tech, which relies on user consent. Such behavioural ad tech had been found to breach the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation last February. This finding, coupled with the release of certain details about the joint venture’s personalized ad-targeting, which emerged last summer during initial test runs in Germany, led the joint venture to tweak its proposal with regard to its proposed strategy for gathering user consent.
While the underlying tech was then described as a “cross-operator infrastructure for digital advertising and digital marketing,” members of the joint venture have repeatedly made statements that the proposed ad-targeting will rely on explicit consent from mobile and internet subscribers before a particular brand or advertiser uses their personal data to target them with marketing. Therefore, the tech infrastructure will be “privacy led” and will heavily focus on transparency for consumers on how brands are “communicating” with them.
Divyajyot (DJ) Verma