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Irish Council for Civil Liberties to sue online advertising body

The ICCL is to take legal action against the Interactive Advertising Bureau on the issue of ‘real time bidding’, described by the Irish rights body as “the world’s biggest data breach”.


Dr Johnny Ryan, senior fellow at the Irish Council For Civil Liberties. Photo: ICCL

Dr Johnny Ryan, senior fellow at the Irish Council For Civil Liberties. Photo: ICCL

Dr Johnny Ryan, senior fellow at the Irish Council For Civil Liberties. Photo: ICCL

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) says that it intends to take legal action against online advertising practices set by the international Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

The legal action is being initiated in Hamburg, where IAB’s online standard-setting affiliate, IAB Tech Lab has an office.

The ICCL says that its target is ‘real time bidding’, where tech giants such as Facebook and Google, as well as online advertising intermediary firms, can label users according to potentially sensitive details such as disability or medical status.

The complaint is being led by ICCL senior fellow Dr Johnny Ryan. Mr Ryan lodged a similar complaint about online real time bidding with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner in 2018.

“ICCL's evidence includes the online advertising industry rulebook that specifies the intimate characteristics put into hidden dossiers about you,” said Mr Ryan.

“This data about you, based on what you think is private, could prompt an algorithm to remove you from the shortlist for your dream job. A retailer might use the data to single you out for a higher price online. A political group might micro target you with personalised disinformation.”

The ICCL said it will submit hundreds of pages of evidence to the court in Hamburg in northern Germany on users' personal data harvested from real-time bidding systems.

Mr Ryan said that the online ‘real time bidding’ system “broadcasts intimate data about us as we use websites and apps, including things like what you are reading or watching or listening to, inferences about your sexual preferences, religious faith, ethnicity, health conditions, your political views, and where you physically are - sometimes right up to your GPS coordinates.”

A spokesperson for the IAB said that it operates within the law of each country its members are active in.

"We have not been served with any documents in the case,” said the spokesperson. “We will review the allegations in conjunction with our legal advisers and will respond in due course, if appropriate.”

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The ICCL move comes after Europe’s highest court ruled that Ireland can be avoided in cases taken against Facebook and other tech giants on sensitive data privacy issues.

The court said that the Irish regulator, despite being the “lead” data authority in relation to companies such as Facebook, must take account of “relevant and reasoned objections made by one of the other supervisory authorities” in other EU countries.

Mr Ryan says that “nothing” has happened on foot of his complaint to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner about the IAB in 2018. 

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