Towards transparency and privacy in the online advertising business

TYPES — Result In Brief

Article originally published on the CORDIS website.

Novel tools to make the web advertising industry more transparent

Market leaders Google and Facebook drive three quarters of internet advertising’s growth. This online advertising explosion is raising serious data privacy and security concerns.

Advertisers track users when they’re online by shadowing them as they browse websites, perform web searches or watch movies. Tracking companies build a profile of each user based on such activities.

Collecting and processing personal data and then offering it to interested parties often means maintaining a balance between sustaining the many gains the industry brings and concerns over the privacy of internet users. The TYPESproject ‘protects individuals’ privacy while empowering them to control how their data is used by service providers for advertising purposes,’ says Rosa Araujo, project coordinator for the EU-funded initiative. ‘By raising end user trust and advertiser transparency, all stakeholders of the advertising ecosystem stand to benefit.’

Keeping internet advertisers in check

TYPES created tools designed to support the idea of a healthier, more transparent and thriving online advertising sector. This suite of tools enables users to ‘better understand how their personal data is used online, ultimately building a strong foundation on which both industry and they can thrive,’ continues Araujo.

The Web Browser Plug-In (available as corporate and open-source versions) and Network Proxy tools concern privacy violation detection and safeguarding. Araujo explains that they allow users to ‘know what information is being collected and tracked by websites and advertisers, among others.’

Data valuation tools estimate the value that the online advertising market or users associate with different data which is mostly unknown and particularly difficult to assess. Software includes the Web Survey tool, Data Valuation Web Portal, YouTube Video Valuation tool and the Facebook Data Valuation tool. ‘Divulging such information would be beneficial for both end users and the online advertising industry,’ notes Araujo.

TYPES also developed Data Broker, a privacy-by-design advertising and marketing solution. Araujo stresses that it ‘helps end users to share and benefit from their data in the digital advertising ecosystem.’

Products to boost business and protect privacy and personal data

Some solutions are ready to hit the market, while others are well on their way. The corporate Web Browser Plug-In is being commercialised for SMEs. One of the project partners, a digital agency, will offer the open-source version to its customers.

The subsidiary of a global security services company is expected to introduce the Network Proxy tool to its client base. ‘This is a huge success for the project and the potential it can offer, because the company has a portfolio of several dozen companies who purchase solutions for improving their users’ web experience,’ emphasises Araujo.

The Web Survey tool is freely available on the project website. Several partners intend to offer the Web Portal as a public service, aimed at maintaining transparency and creating awareness among citizens of personal data’s value.

There are plans to apply for public research funds to maintain the Facebook Data Valuation tool, which informs Facebook users in real time about the money they’re generating for the social networking website. It’s the only product of its kind in the marketplace. A patent has also been issued for the Data Broker algorithms.

‘Key market players and national organisations from the advertisement sector have expressed concern about the impact the project will have on established business models,’ concludes Araujo. ‘Despite this, there’s a certain underlying realisation that something needs to be done regarding transparency, and that the EU’s new legislative framework for data privacy that comes into force in 2018 will make tools not only relevant, but needed.’

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