back to article Ex-Brave staffer launches GDPR sueball in Germany over tech giants' real-time bidding for ad inventory

Former Brave chief policy officer Johnny Ryan is continuing his crusade against the online advertising industry by filing a lawsuit against Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and US telco AT&T in Germany. Ryan's latest campaign organisation, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), said in a statement that online …

  1. Richocet

    Previous approach

    Contextual advertising was used before the technology was in place for personalised ad targeting which is now standard practice.

    So contextual advertising is not so much an alternative, but turning back the clock.

    Advertisers somewhere will know if contextual performs as well as personalised.

    One key difference between the two is the vast array of agencies, brokers and businesses earning revenur from selling, implementing, and supporting personalised advertising because it is much more complex and at least one order of magnitude more effort. This will likely impact the industry's enthusiasm for changing.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Previous approach

      Advertisers somewhere will know if contextual performs as well as personalised

      I imagine many of them will claim to know. The trouble is that the entire industry is based on peddling dubious claims and I'm not sure many of its practitioners would recognise an actual fact even if it was accompanied by an asterisk and a disclaimer in very small text.

      1. Falmari Silver badge

        Re: Previous approach

        Actual facts don't come into it ask any fortune teller does it work and they will all reply yes it does.

    2. a pressbutton

      Re: Previous approach

      Advertisers somewhere will know if contextual performs as well as personalised.

      I did a google search

      It said ask Amazon

      1. Halfmad

        Re: Previous approach

        and Amazon will ask Microsoft, who will ask Yahoo and they all all cite each other as reliable sources.

        The corporate circle jerk will be endless.

    3. SsiethAnabuki

      Re: Previous approach

      There's been (as you can probably imagine) a fair amount of academic interest in whether contextual or behavioural (personalised) advertising with quite a few studies into the effectiveness of each. In controlled environments, contextual advertising consistently outperforms behavioural (just do a quick search on papers and the trend is pretty obvious).

      The problem, probably, is that behavioural advertising is something that a lot of 'industry experts' make a lot of money out of. The systems are already in place to support it and it's an industry that is pretty easy to keep new folks out of. As a result it's pretty robust to industry disruption and a fair bet for making lots money.

      Contextual advertising is a simpler affair, requiring a lot less data aggregation and so easier to break into. I can see why existing folks in the behavioural market don't want to see a shift. It opens them up to greater risk of competition. And so it's in their best interest to keep shilling behavioural over contextural.

      1. Shalghar

        Re: Previous approach

        I seem to remember something of a lawsuit against google for abusing the mobile owners data allowance to send them never displayed ads. Still, they get paid for "delivered" ads. T´was an article here on the reg, shame on me, i cant remember more details.

        By what "interest based" ads are shown to me, i frankly dont know whose interests these ads are based on but surely not mine. Never bought anything from them, they instead turn my well deserved ire on everyone connected to the ADnoyance i am pestered with.

    4. Richard Boyce

      Re: Previous approach

      I am thinking that the advert itself is a product to be sold. Is the offer of personalised ads a good means of marketing online advertising to clients? How clued-up is the average client?

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Previous approach

      When I was at Google, we had a presentation from the analytics team. The presenter mentioned that the team and proposed to create a metric so that advertisers could track the effectiveness of their ads.

      They were told "no" in no uncertain terms.

      Google obsesses over measuring everything. They had the experimental results of targeted advertising in days, and full information in a month. It is bad for advertisers. They have know it for so long that the implementation team lost the institutional knowledge of that fact. That was already true six years ago.

    6. Falmari Silver badge

      Re: Previous approach

      @Richocet "Advertisers somewhere will know if contextual performs as well as personalised." Or performs better, from article.

      "Dutch state broadcaster NPO, which saw revenues rise when it ditched targeted ad-tracking in favour of contextual advertising"

      "So contextual advertising is not so much an alternative, but turning back the clock."

      It is not turning back the clock if contextual advertising performs better. I would call it recognition that personalised advertising does not work as well as contextual advertising and for the advertiser is just wasting money to line the pockets of the ad brokers.

      1. frank 3

        Re: Previous approach

        There are two schools of thought in the ad industry about how to advertise effectively.

        Let's call them 'Brand' and 'Performance'

        Brand advertisers say you should broadly target the whole market segment with your dollar-dollar. Sure, do a bit of hyper-targeted stuff, but most of your money should be about creating some kind of awareness and positive feeling towards your brand, so that when people come to think about buying, they think of you among the 2-5 options most people consider. These guys are winning at the moment. Byron Sharp (How Brands Grow) and Binet & Fields 'The long and the short of it' are the go-to studies. They purport to show that over the long term, hyper-targeting doesn't create demand or grow brands, and they don't do a bad job of it.

        The other school is the 'Performance' ads. The hyper-targeting of people based on lots and lots of data, with 'buy now' type adverts aimed to convert. It works, but generally when people are more or less ready to buy, to make sure you buy it from place X instead of place Y. In the short term, it harvests a lot of sales, but it's a race to the bottom for both privacy and sales: you don't create demand like this, you can only harvest existing interest. And most advertising agencies hate it because it 'fucks with the magic'.

        The point of me saying all this, however, is to highlight that most of the ad industry doesn't particularly like hyper-targeting except in those 'buy-now' moments. And if you leave it to those buy-now moments, then your aren't doing your job of creating future demand. I don't think most of the ad agencies would shed many tears for the loss of behavioural ads.

        1. Falmari Silver badge

          Re: Previous approach

          @frank 3 Cheers for that explanation.

  2. mark l 2 Silver badge

    "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,

    This seems a bit of a stretch, how will a potential employer be able to use advertising databases to shortlist you for a job? Unless the job was working at Google or Facebook. neither of which would be my dream jobs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      how will a potential employer be able to use advertising databases to shortlist you for a job? U

      Hey, it's a database, and they might just decide to sell it to whoever they can, on whatever pretext. Give it a fancy name, merge it with some superficial qualification check or something, and sell it as a way of verifying/filtering job applications.

      1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

        Re: how will a potential employer be able to use advertising databases to shortlist you for a job? U

        Hiring managers (and their friends in HR) are in a very difficult position, even assuming they genuinely want to find an outstanding candidate. When I last found myself in that position, I discovered that it was really hard: the CVs I was receiving were mediocre and yet there were enormous numbers of them; my colleagues in HR were finding it even harder to do a pre-sort as the real requirements for the job were not well aligned with the sort of things that appear on CVs; the covering letters responding to the requirements in the advert were always claiming the candidate was a top expert in all of them, even when that seemed unlikely from the CV.

        These problems had always been with us - I had been hiring people since the 1980's - but have got orders of magnitude worse now. In the past, I tended to work around the problem by using a combination of headhunters and contact networks. Although we are all now (quite rightly) conscious of the bias that introduces in the process.

        So, I can easily see a hiring manager being easily seduced by an HR offer to use external databases of information about people to try to sift through the first sort. Sure, many good people would get incorrectly dropped - but the only alternative technique (throwing all the CVs up in the air and picking up 100 of them from the floor) is just as likely to miss great candidates.

        1. Dabooka Silver badge

          Re: how will a potential employer be able to use advertising databases to shortlist you for a job? U

          I read on these very boards a number of years ago about a technique employed being to split the pile of applicant CVs into two halves and binning those on the left side of the desk.

          The premise being they didn't want to hire anyone that unlucky.

          Still makes me chuckle that one :D

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I think it's funny that most people still believe all this data gathering is just for serving ads

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: Surveillance

      If most people thought that, there wouldn't even be a GDPR.

      1. Woodnag Silver badge


        There won't be GDPR for long in UK, or at least England/Wales.

        Rt Hon Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP in TIGRR: "The ... GDPR... unnecessarily restricting the use of data for worthwhile purposes. ... GDPR is already out of date and needs to be revised for AI and growth sectors if we want to enable innovation in the UK.

        With what's going on with NHS data, "worthwhile purposes" is presumably defined as "any way to get money by selling citizen's privacy".

  4. Shalghar

    I doubt that anything will come from it

    The oh so "stricter" laws mentioned in the article still need to be enforced and thats where the whole GDPR illusion bubble pops.

    Germany has a very sad history of doing nothing of relevance against privacy breaching companies. I had several encounters with the so called Datenschutzbeauftragten (data protection agency) and can assure you that their activity is absolutely in favour of the company - if they react at all.

    GDPR as "augmentation" to the old and battered BDSG (Bundesdatenschutzgesetz/federal data protection law) seems to cosmetically address several loopholes but still lacks the bite and overall support by the "responsible" authorities.

    I am currently wasting time in a related field with the Bundesnetzagentur, reporting a cold call agency for over half a year now, including logfiles from my telephone box. Cold calling is illegal in germany but as with the usual GDPR violations and violators, illegal acts by the high and mighty really doesnt interest the "watchdogs" at all.

    The first claim was duly ignored (apart from an automated response message), the second got a reaction after just short of 4 months, asking for "necessary information" i already gave at the online form.

    No we did not allow them to hassle us, yes we told them every friggin time to stop annoying us and delete our number, no we never had any contract with them, no we dont want to be pestered anymore (Hello ? If i enjoyed that kind of speechspamming i probably would not have filed a complaint - twice ?).

    I have currently redirected the number (as long as they dont fake it) to the unused telephone port of my box where a member of my hardware antiques depot, a panasonic fax, duly beeps and screeches at those scoundrels.

    They still keep calling up to four times a day, thats more work dedicated to me than the Bundesnetzagentur ever showed.

  5. Nifty Silver badge

    "could prompt an algorithm to remove you from the shortlist for your dream job"

    Or could save you from working for a lemon of an organisation.

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