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The ICO's stance on user privacy and website compliance

How can businesses ensure that they’re truly honoring user privacy when going about targeted advertising on websites? See what the UK’s ICO has to say about it

Param Gopalasamy
Content Marketing Specialist - CIPP/E, CIPP/US, CIPM
December 14, 2023

Woman looks at her computer monitor in an office..

In an era where online ads seem uncannily tailored to our preferences, the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is stepping up to ensure user privacy isn't compromised. With a recent announcement targeting the country's most visited websites, the ICO is making a bold statement about the balance between personalized advertising and user consent.

 

ICO's ultimatum to UK Websites

30-Day compliance deadline

The ICO has recently issued a warning to numerous high-traffic UK websites, emphasizing the need for immediate compliance with data protection laws and previous guidance. These websites have been given a 30-day ultimatum to align their operations with legal standards, ensuring user privacy is not infringed upon. This means that consent should be as easy to take away or reject as it is to accept, and targeted ads are only shown to those who consent to them. 

 

January update and potential repercussions

A follow-up by the ICO is scheduled for January, promising to disclose the status of these companies, especially those failing to address the concerns raised. This action signifies the ICO's commitment to safeguarding online user rights, particularly in the realm of digital advertising. Enforcement actions loom for companies that are found to be non-compliant.  

 

The ICO's concerns: Personalized ads and privacy invasions

The reality of hyper-personalized ads

Stephen Almond, ICO's Executive Director of Regulatory Risk, highlights the eeriness of encountering ads that seem almost psychic in their accuracy. This issue transcends mere coincidence, reflecting a deeper concern about how personal information is utilized without explicit user consent.

 

Specific instances of concern

The ICO points out several alarming scenarios: gambling addicts receiving tailored betting offers, women being targeted with sensitive ads post-miscarriage, and individuals having their sexuality potentially exposed through ad targeting. These examples underscore the ICO's worries about the misuse of personal data in online advertising. Those concerns are highlighted in a detailed manner in a joint position paper from ICO and CMA. The document illustrates a deep review of choice architecture and types of constraints impairing users to provide meaningful choice.

 

The dichotomy of cookie consent: Accept all vs. reject all

Ensuring fair choice for users

A major focus of the ICO's directive is the need for websites to provide a fair choice to users regarding tracking for personalized ads. The idea is to make rejecting all advertising cookies as simple as accepting them, a move that would significantly empower user autonomy online.

 

Advertising without tracking

The ICO clarifies that even if users opt to reject tracking, websites can still display ads. However, these ads must not be tailored to the individual user, ensuring a non-intrusive browsing experience.

 

The path forward: Compliance or consequences

A clear choice for companies

Acknowledging that many prominent websites have successfully adapted to these privacy standards, the ICO presents a clear ultimatum to those lagging: adapt now or face the consequences. This stance by the ICO represents a critical juncture in the online advertising industry, where user rights are being vehemently defended.

 

A broader mission for user rights

This initiative is part of a larger effort by the ICO to uphold user rights in the face of evolving digital advertising practices. By addressing these issues head-on, the ICO aims to foster an online environment where user privacy and consent are paramount.

 

Steering towards a more privacy-conscious internet

The ICO's recent actions signify a crucial shift towards greater respect for user privacy in the realm of online advertising. As we await the January update, it's clear that the balance between personalized advertising and user consent is being redrawn, with the ICO is at the forefront of this pivotal change. For internet users and website operators alike, this marks a new chapter in navigating the intricate web of digital privacy.

 

What does this mean for your organization?

If your business has a major presence in the UK, with significant web traffic from that jurisdiction – you’ll need to ensure that your website not only has a “reject all” option for consent which is as easily accessible as an “accept all”, but also that targeted ads aren’t shown at the time of collecting consent. The design must facilitate user choice and control, enabling individuals to make effective decisions about their personal information while maintaining authority over its usage.

Take a look at the current website data collection mechanisms that your organization has in place and determine whether they fit these ICO guidelines

 

How OneTrust helps?

When it comes to having the right consent and preferences solution in place, OneTrust can help your organization not only comply with applicable regulations – but also utilize consent and preference data to enable personalized experiences that can turn your one-time customers into loyal members of your brand. 

Our solutions can help deliver the architecture practices for good choice recommended by the ICO:

  • Put the user at the heart of design choices: You have the possibility to fully customize the design approach of our Banner and Preference Center to align them with your brand identity and to facilitate the user journey through the consent collection.

  • Use design that empowers user choice and control: You can distribute your necessary disclosures through different layers and formats, ensuring that users will not be overloaded with information as well as helping them to make meaningful and freely given decisions over whether to accept or reject tracking technologies.

  • Test and trial design choices: Before publishing the final version of your Banner and Preference Center template, you have the possibility to perform several tests to understand consumer comprehension, experience, and feelings of control. The testing features, such as the A/B testing with different templates, help you to mitigate beforehand potential harms, biases, and nudging behavior in your framework.

  • Comply with data protection, consumer, and competition law: Our platform offers a variety of out-of-the-box templates covering different Jurisdictions and specific legal requirements. Your customization journey can start by selecting one of those templates with at least the minimum mandatory requirements per Jurisdiction.

From website audits to transparent privacy notices with intuitive policy explanations, and native data collection spots that reinforce privacy at every touchpoint – OneTrust Consent & Preferences helps your organization go beyond compliance and keep your customer’s privacy at the forefront of your digital operations. 

To learn more about how OneTrust Consent & Preferences can help your organization, request a demo today.


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