Google is still at odds over industry GDPR standards

Google’s integration with the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation framework is facing complications.

The August deadline Google predicted for the start of its integration has passed. One of the reasons for the hold-up to Google signing on the dotted line stems from certain terms around vendor exclusivity. There has been some back and forth over whether Google can continue to work with any vendor that isn’t on the framework, according to sources. IAB Europe has stressed that a publisher can work with any vendor they choose, as long as it’s made apparent that they’re not part of the framework and the publisher can vouch for the vendor’s GDPR compliance. It hasn’t helped that August is prime vacation season in Europe. But Google is still committed to signing its contract for integration.

“We have been working closely with IAB Europe over the last several months to ensure our ad products are interoperable with the Transparency and Consent Framework,” said a Google spokesperson. “We are in the process of formalizing our participation in the framework and hope to integrate as quickly as we can.”

Getting the contract signed is just the first hurdle. Other ongoing discussions must be resolved, and compromises found between publisher, vendor and agency stakeholders before the integration can become a reality.

One of the biggest challenges is around the framework’s rules concerning what purposes data processors like Google can use publisher user information for, said sources close to the situation.

Over the past two months, a group of 20 companies including two agency holding groups, Google, major European publishers and ad tech vendors have had a weekly conference call to discuss how to resolve the issues around purposes.

That’s no easy feat with so many businesses on different sides of the ad ecosystem, with varying business models and commercial objectives. Many publishers want granularity and full control over exactly how any partner in their digital ad supply chain can use data coming from their site. Their argument: If they don’t have full control and something goes awry in the chain, they’re on the hook for fines as data controllers under GDPR. They can also inform users about exactly which purposes their data will be used.

This was one of the core gripes publishers had with the framework when it launched last year, when many of them protested that they hadn’t been properly consulted and the result was a framework that protected the business models and the status quo of the ad tech market. Since then, IAB Europe has worked on altering the framework to appease publishers, with the result that most are now content with the current set up. Currently, vendors must disclose which purposes they plan to use the data for, and publishers can decide which vendor partners can use data for which purpose.

Other — likely smaller — publishers are less bothered about the granularity on consent.

For Google, having to adhere to the current rules on purposes would make it difficult to still bundle some of its services, according to sources. While publishers have argued for more granularity of control on purposes, vendors like Google want the parameters for the purposes to be more flexible, according to sources. For instance, publishers believe personalization should be a separate purpose from ad selection and delivery. But the counter argument, is that there should be one purpose for methods that are intertwined, such as ad delivery and measurement.

Those publishers that spent the last six months negotiating for stricter control over purposes in the framework, are frustrated that they may have to unpick the progress made to suit Google, according to sources. “It would force them to unbundle the services around data collection and usage,” said an executive at a major publisher. “If they align with the IAB framework [in its current form,] it would empower publishers to make choices over what they will allow Google to do specifically. It would give publishers more control.”

Google doesn’t believe that this sort of permission-handling should be part of the standard, but rather controlled by specific suppliers, according to sources. But that could get more complicated for publishers using more than one or two ad tech suppliers (which is most of them).

However, several sources close to the conversations have said that Google’s attitude has been entirely cooperative and constructive.

“We are seeking a compromise that will accommodate different companies, while meeting the objectives of the re-drafting exercise: understandable purposes for consumers, clear use cases for vendors, and sufficient publisher control,” said Stevan Randjelovic, brand safety manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, for Group M and lead for the steering group. “We cannot have purposes which accommodate one single business model and not others. The group is working hard and operating across the spectrum to find a compromise that will allow companies to feel comfortable while meeting the said objectives. We need a framework that is flexible enough for everyone, yet consistently and reliably applicable.”

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