Privacy group files GDPR lawsuit against online advertising industry

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is going after Amazon, Facebook, Google and more over alleged data privacy breaches

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has filed a lawsuit in a German court on Wednesday against the world's online advertising industry.

The legal action takes aim at tech giants such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), and challenges the industry's rules.

It's been brought by Dr Johnny Ryan, a senior fellow at the ICCL, who believes that the Data Protection Commission in Ireland, along with other regulators within the EU, have failed to act on formal complaints the ICCL has submitted over the last three years. 

Part of the lawsuit focuses on the online advertising industry's rulebook for building profiles - or "secret dossiers" - of individuals, as well as the data shared between ad brokers and other firms while ad space is being auctioned as a website loads. This is called the real-time bidding (RTB) system, which is a core part of today's online advertising industry used by thousands of companies through the IAB. It collects people's browsing history and auctions it to hundreds of thousands of third parties so they can bid on advertising space.

"These secret dossiers about you - based on what you think is private - could prompt an algorithm to remove you from the shortlist for your dream job," Ryan claimed in a statement. "A retailer might use the data to single you out for a higher price online. A political group might micro-target you with personalised disinformation."

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Ryan also suggests, incorrectly, that the use of the system is a "daily data breach" and hits out General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulations for a lack of action on this issue. He has also previously accused the UK's Information Commissioner's Office of failing to regulate real-time bidding

"In September 2018 we brought evidence of the unlawful behaviour of the ad industry to regulators," said solicitor Ravi Naik, a Partner at law firm AWO. "Owing to regulatory inertia, years later, we have no resolution to that conduct. Instead, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties have had to stand up for all of our rights." 

The ICCL has claimed to have hundreds of pages of evidence ready to submit to a court in Hamburg that highlights personal data harvested from real-time bidding systems.

IT Pro has approached Google and Facebook for comment.

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