Over the next few weeks, the UK online advertising industry will be waiting anxiously for the ICO’s update around its views on adtech compliance with GDPR, which they have promised to publish on Dec 20th.  There will be much speculation about what will happen to real-time bidding and 3rd party cookies moving forwards. Given the resulting urgency of the issue to the industry at the moment, it’s useful to take a moment to think about how our audience actually feel – the consumers whose data this industry is built around. 

Early this year, the European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance (EDAA) commissioned MTM to conduct a piece of consumer research to explore these very issues. Caroline Wren, our Managing Director, has been busy on conference stages recently to raise awareness of our (now published) study’s most important finding: that transparency can improve trust in the industry. This week, we’d like to share with you some of the project’s main points:

  • Lack of transparency in how data is used contributes to a lack of trust from consumers: The knowledge that data relating to our online behaviours is being collected is now widespread. However, few are aware of the mechanisms that allow them to review this process: to see what data is collected, by whom, and for what purpose. This lack of clarity affects our online behaviours: when consumers feel they have a better understanding of the process and any value exchange is transparently clear, they are happier to share their online data.
  • Addressing this lack of transparency is important for improving consumer perceptions of data-driven advertising: For many consumers, seeing advertisements online that are clearly based on their recent behaviour (that pair of shoes which follows me around the internet!) serves as a reminder that their data is being collected and used behind the scenes. Our research backs up the findings that have been seen in other published pieces, that consumers can often feel more concerned when they first realise some of the ways that their data is used, or hear about the 3rd party organisations using their data behind the scenes.  We saw that consumers who show some awareness but no real understanding were more concerned: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!  However, consumers are often positive about the benefits of data-driven advertising (for example, half agree that they would prefer to see advertising that is relevant to them), and it seems perfectly possible to address the concerns by increasing transparency and by educating people about the benefits they can experience.
  • The introduction of GDPR has improved confidence, but there is still scope for improvement: Those consumers who have a good understanding of GDPR feel more comfortable in sharing their data online and have a more positive outlook towards OBA. But, while high levels of publicity surrounding the launch of GDPR mean most consumers have an awareness of the regulations, understanding is often cursory. There is therefore an opportunity for the industry to improve consumer understanding of the regulations that protect their data.
  • Consumers want control over their data, but there is a need for greater clarity and understanding in available methods

Ultimately, consumers want the power to make decisions themselves. But while there may be scope to improve the delivery of control methods, the most pressing concern is the lack of clarity from consumers around the existing provisions. More educational campaigning and greater clarity in descriptions and signposting in settings pages and cookie requests could provide greater clarity and understanding for consumers, something there is a sizable appetite for.     

EDAA Summit, London, 24.10.19: Caroline launched the EDAA’s findings, highlighting the need for the digital ad industry to deliver a consumer-centric future.

Federation of European Direct and Interactive Marketing (FEDMA) Event, Brussels, 19.11.19: At the European Parliament, alongside MEP Jeroen Lenaers, Caroline discussed consumer trust and the value of industry self-regulation.

IAPP Europe Data Protection Congress, Brussels, 21.11.19: Caroline added the consumer perspective to discussions on developments in data protection legislation and services.


If you would like to find out more about this fascinating area of research, or would like to discuss how we can help your business understand users’ perceptions, then please get in touch.