It's like Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood "drinking your milkshake" — Google doesn't need to tap the big data well if they can tap all the little wells around it, and the EU is catching on.
Last week, the EU's somewhat infamous GDPR facilitated another move against marketing data collection, as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) published a draft ruling against the IAB (Interactive Advertising Board), claiming the now-ubiquitous tracking consent pop-ups you see in websites and apps infringe on the 'fundamental rights' of European citizens.
So what's the big deal? The ICCL claims to have evidence suggesting that advertising bodies knew that advertising targeting was fundamentally "incompatible with consent under GDPR" — that is, the pop-ups are a front to placate users, not a true measure of increased privacy — and advertisers always knew it.
The argument by the ICCL is that digital advertising still collects data infringing on privacy, whether you approve website cookies or not. The tracking systems that most digital advertising services rely on send real-time, anonymized data to and from servers billions of times a day — including anonymous data about users who opt out of cookie tracking.
This anonymous ID code may not provide the depth of data reporting that advertisers once benefited from, but it still provides behavioural data. Using this ID, advertising networks can see which users view which web pages, and to some extent how they behave on websites.
Essentially, just because advertisers no longer get to know if you're a 30-year old woman, they can still see details about your online behaviour and use that to target you with advertising.
This means those annoying privacy pop-ups are a thin legal veneer protecting Big Advertising from scrutiny, at least according to the ICCL. Should this draft ruling be confirmed, the entire web tracking ecosystem may be affected.
It's unclear at this time what the next move is for digital advertisers. If anonymous tracking IDs are a bridge too far for GDPR, what can advertisers use to effectively target their ads?
The Wild West of internet advertising feels as though it's coming to a close, for better and for worse depending on your perspective.
In an increasingly crowded and competitive marketing channel, things keep getting tougher.