March 23, 2022

What the Transparency Consent Framework ban in the Netherlands Means for the Industry

Opinions on the latest updates from the Dutch Data Protection Authority

As if there were not enough problems already, the Dutch Data Protection Authority banned IAB Europe's Transparency Consent Framework. It shows a lack of understanding of the industry. Still, it's good to look at alternatives. Think of: log-in brand experience, contextual targeting, and the solutions from Google and Amazon.

Just when you think it couldn't get any crazier, the Dutch Data Protection Authority (AP), advises publishers to immediately look for an alternative to the Transparency Consent Framework (TCF) for placing advertisements based on visitor data. Yes, you read that right: immediately.

The regulator conveniently ignores the fact that the advertising system – which was developed by IAB Europe and in which consumers give permission via a pop-up to have their surfing behavior tracked – is used by an estimated 80% of European websites and apps.

Stop immediately

Like IAB Europe, I dispute the AP's explanation that TCF should be stopped due to privacy violations. After all, the Belgian decree reads “no prohibition”. The trade association has also been given six months to comply with the privacy law. It is all the more remarkable that the regulator is calling for an immediate stop.

Apart from reality

The fact that the AP does not tell Het Financieele Dagblad (subscription wall) whether it will tackle websites that still use the method is proof to me that the regulator is not aware of what these kinds of statements can bring about in the market. In the FD Ruben Schreurs, chief product officer of media consultancy Ebiquity, has already indicated that large advertisers now fear fines from regulators and claims from privacy organizations. Schreurs says that a "tidal wave of lawsuits or a mass claim case" is imminent. And that despite the fact that the Belgian decision currently reads “no ban”. IAB Europe, and with it the entire market, still has six months to wait or find a similar and reliable alternative. But whether the market will wait that six months remains to be seen.

Digital Services Act

After all, due to the imminent disappearance of third-party cookies and the Digital Services Act, which should regulate the liability of online platforms, the market was eagerly looking for targeting and cookie alternatives. The plan that is currently on the table, but not yet final, addresses the following issues:

  1. Personalized advertisements directed to children (under the age of 18) are prohibited.
  2. The personalization of advertisements based on 'special personal data' is also prohibited. Special personal data are data that say something about a person's political views, religious beliefs, sexual preference or health, for example.
  3. A website visitor should not be repeatedly asked for permission to use his/her personal data after he/she has previously declined.
  4. If a website visitor has indicated via the web browser that he or she does not want his/her personal data to be collected by websites, websites are not allowed to request permission from the website visitor.
  5. If a website visitor indicates that his/her personal data should not be used for advertising purposes, the functions of the website should not be made inaccessible, such as access to the website.

Long story short: one-to-one targeting had no future in the first place. We can discuss it endlessly, but it's time to let go of the old and focus on the future. We need to go further, and thus develop a form of advertising that meets consumer needs, protects their privacy, is profitable for the advertiser, and realizes more value for publishers' brands.


Here are the three most obvious alternatives for anyone looking for this golden mean.

1. Log-in based brand experience

The first option is a log-in based brand experience. If we let consumers log in before they use websites, loyalty programs or products such as magazines, we can advertise as targeted as possible based on these login data. Although building such a system is not easy and requires a lot of knowledge and data, it offers many advantages. The system may even help track and analyze PoS traffic and offline purchase data.

2. Contextual Targeting

I would venture to say that contextual targeting offers significant performance gains over the most common targeting while respecting user privacy. I see that it works every day in practice. Within video advertising it is already possible to only show video advertisements whose content is fully in line with the website and the individual ad performance, which is based on historical data.

This system works completely without cookies and extracts knowledge from aggregated performance data that cannot be linked to an individual user (ie: a natural person). As an illustration, this can be compared to the well-known behavioral approach we see in e-commerce solutions for cross-selling products (“people who bought X were also interested in Y”): the type of content on which ad campaign X performed well is likely to also yield good results for campaign Y. This specific form of targeting makes it possible to match the advertiser's message and the content as closely as possible, while fully respecting the anonymity and privacy of the user.

3. Google or Amazon?

For publishers, of course, the situation is different. If IAB Europe does not come up with a good alternative, there is a good chance that publishers will develop their own module or switch to Google or Amazon. In short: the data is, but not the responsibility. With Topics , Chrome uses an algorithm to determine the topics of interest for the week without connecting to servers, including Google's, the search giant says. The topic list remains in the browser for three weeks and then disappears. As a result, there is no history of topics available, claims Google.

When the Chrome user visits a website that uses this technique, Topics chooses three themes from the past three weeks to share with the site and its advertising partners. The auction model will presumably apply again here: the highest bidder on the impression may serve out his commercial message. It is not yet known which data will and will not be shared with the publisher.

No stress - targeting alternatives

I understand that the AP ruling has caused stress for many companies, but I hope it will disappear soon. The soup is not eaten hot as it’s cooked.

Should IAB Europe fail, there are plenty of alternatives. The messages about contextual targeting are especially promising because this technique does not depend on personal user data: which makes it extra interesting. After all, there is virtually no risk of coming into conflict with existing and future privacy laws around the world.

Whatever your choice, it's important that as a business you don't sit still and rather, become familiar with new ways of targeting and privacy management. We 'only' have to learn to think and act differently than we have been used to in the past 10 years, but above all, we also have to be open to new developments.


Read the original article in Dutch first published on emerce.nl.

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