Government mulls data targeting alternatives

The Government is exploring alternatives to brands using consumers’ personal details to hone their online marketing, including the possibility of using data pseudonyms, according to the European Commission’s director general for communications, content and technology Robert Madelin.

The Government is exploring the possibility of using data pseudonyms as the EU chief says a shift to the practice would stimulate growth.

Speaking at ISBA’s annual conference earlier today (13 March) Madelin told attendees current discussions centre on the implications of advertisers using a pseudonym as an alternative to personal data to “identify a specific data subject”, a process he called “pseudonymisation”.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) confirmed talks had taken place to this effect but added “nothing had been agreed” by either the Government or the commissioner. The Ministry of Justice was unable to provide an update on talks within the Government by the time this article was published.

If the practice of brands pseudonymising data was approved, it would see the creation of a new category of data that would store cookies and IP addresses so that individuals could be assigned the same pseudonym across various devices. The information could then be grouped together for analysis without putting personal data at risk.

Madelin claimed if such a category existed “the world would be a better place for innovation”.

He added: “If you had something that covers cookies and IP addresses that doesn’t need to be procedurally regulated as heavily as my name or my medical file then I think that would solve a lot of problems about how we use technology to build relationships between advertisers and ad servers. 

“We would be able to actually track who we’re targeting ads at but then link back to whether people go and buy things from the companies paying for the ads. It’s an idea at the moment and the Commissioner hasn’t decided what he thinks about it but it’s an interesting change. It’s not just about putting commas in commissions. “

Officials from justice departments across Europe have been asked to explore to what extent using pseudonymising data could affect advertisers’ obligations to data protection. The reviews come amid plans to update EU data protection laws dating as far back as 1995, with authorities mooting curbs on how brands gain internet users’ consent when trying to profile them online.

Separately, Madelin called for the UK’s advertising industry to be more responsible in an “era of convergence” and “sell self-regulation better”.

“There are ways to sell the chocolate [of self-regulation] but not everyone is diverting enough attention to do it.”

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