How the IAB’s GDPR Transparency and Consent Framework Works From a Technical Perspective

AdTech Processes, Data & Privacy, MarTech Processes

How the IAB’s GDPR Transparency and Consent Framework Works From a Technical Perspective

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As of May 25, 2018, all companies that collect, use, process, and share data about EU citizens will be required to comply with the General Data-Protection Regulation (GDPR) and implement new data-protection and security measures. The regulation does not apply to EU companies alone. Regardless of whether an organization is based in the EU, it must comply with the regulation when processing EU/EEA-citizen data, or face severe financial penalties.

For AdTech and MarTech vendors, the most important implications of the GDPR include:

A change to the definition of personal data: Identifiers such as IP addresses, device IDs, location data, and cookies will be considered personal data. This will change the way advertisers and technology vendors collect, store, and use such information.

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New rules for data collection: Companies wanting to collect and process user data will have to obtain consent from users and comply with some stringent rules. For the most part, consent will have to be freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous. Also, consent boxes cannot be pre-ticked and will have to be given with a statement or clear, affirmative action. All companies processing the data will be required to provide evidence that consent was given.

Consent is required for each data-processing activity: If companies wish to process user data for multiple purposes (e.g. behavioral targeting and personalization), they’ll have to obtain user consent for each process.

For AdTech vendors, these new rules create a whole world of problems due to the fragmented nature of the online advertising ecosystem and the sheer number of players involved in a typical media transaction.


An illustration of how user data is shared (aka leaked) to various platforms during an online media transaction. Under the GDPR, each platform in the diagram would have to obtain consent from the user to collect and process their data.

IAB—the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an organization responsible for creating and governing industry standards, research, and legal support for online advertisers—has proposed its own solution to help support the industry through the roll-out of the GDPR and solve some of the main challenges in its GDPR Transparency and Consent Framework.

In March 2018, the IAB’s framework was submitted to AdTech companies and publishers for public comment.

What is the IAB’s GDPR Transparency and Consent Framework?

The framework is intended to support publishers, technology vendors, and advertisers in meeting the transparency and user-consent requirements of the GDPR before the regulation comes into force on May 25.

The framework is governed by the IAB Tech Lab and is a non-commercial, open-source initiative. Developed in collaboration with a number of publishers, advertisers, and other important industry participants, the release of the final version of the framework is planned for mid-April, right before GDPR kicks in. It’s designed to standardize the process of gaining consent to collect and use personal data.

How Does the Framework Actually Work?

User consent is one of six “legal grounds” for processing personal data. The framework makes it much easier for first-party publishers (whose services entail the use of a number of third parties) to process user data and to obtain consent in compliance with the rules laid down by GDPR.

The IAB’s framework standardizes the process of getting Internet users’ consent for data processing, and relays this information further down the advertising supply chain.

The proposal also includes a Global Vendor List (GVL), which works as a registry of data controllers participating in the Framework. Think of it as a “whitelist” of vendors through which consent can be requested by first parties—publishers who directly interact with users.

Here’s a brief step-by-step overview of how it works:

Step 1

The publisher selects which technology vendors from the Global Vendor List it would like to partner with.

Step 2

Each time a user accesses the publisher’s website for the first time, they are asked to select the companies with whom the publisher can share their data. This information will be stored in a first-party cookie in the user’s browser.

Since the framework is currently based on the use of cookies, it won’t work for mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) for now. Other mechanisms for the storage of user consent will be implemented in the near future, allowing a more seamless transfer of consent across various devices used by each user.

Step 3

Once the user has made their selection, the publisher can then share the user’s data with the selected technology vendors.

An example of how the consent-sharing process could look. The user has allowed the platforms in green to collect and use their data. The platforms in orange were on the publisher’s Global Vendor List, but the user didn’t provide consent. Those in red weren’t on the publisher’s Global Vendor List.

Assuming the user has allowed all the technology vendors to collect their data, which isn’t likely, only those on the publisher’s Global Vendor List would be able to collect the user’s data.

Looking at the example diagram above, the user hasn’t allowed DSP#1, DMP#2, and DMP#3 to collect their data, even though they are included on the publisher’s Global Vendor List.

How Will Publishers Communicate User Consent With Approved Vendors?

In order for publishers to effectively communicate with whitelisted technology vendors, the IAB recommends passing the user’s consent decisions down the supply chain.

The user-consent information would consist of two binary strings (a purpose-choice string and a vendor-choice string) and then turned into a compressed value as seen in the image below.

The purpose choices represent the purpose of the data collection (e.g. behavioral advertising and retargeting) and the vendor choices represent the technology vendors the publisher has whitelisted that have received user consent and, therefore, can receive the user’s data.
Source: Digital Advertising: Transparency, Control, Consent. IAB Europe, March 2018

The compressed value would be added to each ad and bid request further down the supply chain (or daisy chain, as the IAB is calling it), allowing only the whitelisted technology vendors to receive the user’s data.

Benefits

The IAB’s GDPR Transparency and Consent Framework offers an array of benefits for users and advertisers:

  • It introduces an industry-wide standard for collecting user consent for data processing.
  • It relays the user-consent information further down the advertising supply chain and signals it to other third parties.
  • While still not perfect, the framework is a step in the right direction towards GDPR compliance in general, easing the whole transition process for AdTech companies and publishers.
  • It will be supported in OpenRTB transactions, which bodes well for its adoption rates as a lot of popular AdTech vendors utilize the OpenRTB protocol.
  • The framework can benefit publishers by offering a means to be more transparent with users and also exercise stricter control over how the user data is processed by various technology providers; publishers can choose which third parties and which data-processing purposes they solicit user consent for.
  • At the same time, it gives publishers the power to decide how best to leverage its possibilities.
  • The framework does not impose all-or-nothing decisions on uses. Users can choose which third parties they want to share their data with. The framework, in its current wording, allows users to consent to some, all, or none of the disclosed data-processing purposes, and to processing of the data by some, all, or none of the disclosed third parties.

Pitfalls

The IAB’s GDPR Transparency and Consent Framework is still far from perfect and requires certain adjustments to guarantee full compliance with the GDPR for AdTech companies and publishers. This is no small feat, considering the complex nature of the programmatic ecosystem. Many of the benefits of the GDPR create new challenges, not only for AdTech companies, but also for Internet users.

Some articles urge publishers against teaming up with companies behind IAB’s framework (Google and Facebook included), as it may be seen as favoring advertisers. There are a number of publications around the web pinpointing the pitfalls and inconsistencies of the IAB framework, but the main complaints include:

  • Data leakage (i.e. when user data is passed on to multiple companies without the user’s knowledge) is a regular occurrence due to the pure nature of the online programmatic and RTB ecosystem, and often happens without the publisher’s and user’s knowledge. The GDPR holds the publisher responsible whenever it happens.
  • While users can choose which third parties they want to connect with, the framework is not restrictive and still allows publishers to present users with this take-it-or-leave-it kind of choice, if they want to.
  • As PageFair pointed out in a recent article, there is close to no control over what happens to a user’s personal data once it enters a real-time bidding transaction. Again, this imposes a huge liability on the publishers’ part—CMPs, SSPs, DSPs, ad exchanges and the ways in which they use the data is something publishers have little control of.
  • The IAB proposes that all consent is bundled under a single OK button, which may sabotage their own opt-ins as Internet users are very likely to say no to all of them in an effort to close the consent box and view the content on the page. It’s highly unlikely that users will take the time to carefully consider the implication of sharing their data with each platform.
  • The framework itself, as PageFair aptly noted, still fails to comply with Article 5 of the GDPR, one that requires consent to be requested in a granular manner for a “specified, explicit” set of purposes. Within the framework, the IAB proposes a design whereby consents are bundled together with a host of data-processing purposes, all under a single opt-in.
  • Likewise, the framework’s proposed “advertising personalization” opt-in appears to severely breach Article 6 (lawfulness of processing) and Article 13 (information to be provided where personal data is collected from the data subject) of the GDPR. Again, the message bundles several distinct purposes together, but provides no indication of what exactly will be done with the user’s personal data, which strictly violates the GDPR.
  • The current shape of the framework may result in thwarting the whole idea of the GDPR. Users may still be encouraged to agree to everything, which may result in reverting back to the original state of online advertising—i.e. maximum behaviorally targeted advertising and unbridled data collection. This is, at least, what would work in the best interest of some advertisers.

Alternatives

In a post-GDPR world, advertisers will have problems providing full personalization and targeting without clear and explicit consent of the user. Audience selection will have to be based on cohorts and context, i.e. non-personal data.

There are, however, certain alternatives to the IAB’s proposed framework, which could offer better protection for publishers, restrict data leakage, and allow advertisers and AdTech companies to run personalized and targeted campaigns to users who have provided consent.

Other Consent Managers

Piwik PRO Consent Manager
Piwik PRO GDPR Consent Manager allows you to collect visitor consents in line with GDPR, and efficiently manage all data-subject requests from a beautifully designed panel. Using a simple editor, you’ll be able to create and edit consent-request popups and other types of widgets helping you to collect lawful consents. They will serve as a gatekeeper between your website’s visitors and an array of tools that will later operate on agreed types of data.

Konsento
Konsento makes it easy to collect and manage user consents and keep track of your records of data-processing activities. Perfectly suited for non-profits, sports clubs, and associations.

Ensighten
Ensighten offers an easy-to-install (via a single line of code through any tag-management system) GDPR solution.

TrustArc Cookie Consent Manager
Cookie Consent Manager provides a cookie-compliance solution, including support for visual customization and branding. It enables implementation through a single script and integration with tag-management systems.

Building a Custom Consent Tool

Publishers, agencies, and AdTech vendors who don’t consider IAB’s consent framework compelling enough can still resort to building their own user-consent tool. Teaming up with an experienced software-development company that specializes in building custom software solutions can make compliance with the GDPR and other privacy laws much easier.

Specifically, a bespoke consent tool can help your company avoid the costly fines associated with non-compliance with the GDPR. Designing and developing new software allows you to focus on specific features and technologies your company needs: acquiring user consent, managing user rights, or minimizing data leaks.

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